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Friday, January 31, 2014

New Book - Sanctuary in the Atchafalaya

Finally, my latest novel, Sanctuary in the Atchafalaya,  is finished and published. (It is available at  Amazon and smashwords). It kept having to take a back seat when Mom required so much care the last few months and after she died, it took me a while to get my mind settled enough to get back in the groove of writing.

Luca Quai, the main character in the book, is different and yet in some ways the same as my other heroes - Rafe, Ethan, Cole, Shea....

Luca Quai excelled at three things: seduction, sleight of hand and assassination.
Rarely did Luca meet anyone, male or female, who couldn’t be tempted into his bed. Partly that was because of his striking looks. Slightly above medium height, his lithe slenderness belied his strength. He was lean and hard and quick. His thick black hair curled down his neck. Mysterious eyes the color of pewter, the somewhat slanted shape of them hinting at a long-ago Mongol ancestor, were framed by thick brows and long lashes. The rest of his face featured high cheekbones, a straight aristocratic nose and a firm chin. His skin color was deeply tan. He could pass for Latino or Arabic or even African-American if the occasion called for it. Add to that a gleaming white slash of a smile and Luca ignited lust like a match ignites tinder.
Even more than his looks though was a kind of magnetism that surrounded him like an incandescent aura. It lured people into wanting to share in the sensuous golden glow of it.
His mastery of sleight of hand most often manifested itself through cheating at cards. He could palm a card, replacing it with another, with movements so smooth and quick that no one even noticed. His favorite game was poker although he’d play others if a high roller suggested a friendly wager.

And lastly, killing – almost always with a knife. Luca could smile while sticking a stiletto in your heart so that you were knocking on the Pearly Gates before you realized you were under attack. (Sleight of hand played a part in that too, of course). He was the favorite assassin of those who had a strongly emotional animus against the target, when a bullet from a distance simply wasn’t personal enough.

Luca shares qualities with the others in that they are all men who are capable of great good at the same time they are engaging in great bad. The theme of the first Rafe novel was: "are we are good as the best that we do or as bad as the worst that we do"? That question still fascinates me and so...Luca Quai. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Black Eagles

Here is one of the coolest aspects of doing research for a book. In the novel, I'm writing now, my hero (half Jew/half Gypsy) was assaulted by neo-Nazis who carved a swastika into his chest. Of course, he always despised carrying this ugly symbol on his body so he went to a tattoo artist to have it covered over. I wanted his tattoo to be of a black eagle but so far as I knew there was no such thing.

So, I went to Google and put "black eagle" in the search box and lo and behold, it turns out there are not one, but two distinct species of black eagles. The first, the Indian black eagle's official name is Ictinaetus Malayensis and his range is from Pakistan and Indochina to the Malay Peninsula. The second, The Verreaux eagle is known as the African eagle.

Aren't they beauties?

So I was able to safely make my guy's tattoo a black eagle without eagle-eyed (pun intended) readers writing to say - "you made that up, there is no such thing as a black eagle!" Of course, writers make things up. That's what fiction is, after all, but I do usually try to be accurate about historic, scientific and natural facts.

In this book (which will be entitled Sanctuary in the Atchafalaya, I've learned about Jewish culture and holidays and food and Gypsies (though they call themselves Roma) and New Orleans and the Atchafalaya Basin and Sicilian stiletto fighting.

Through writing, I get a broader education than I ever got in school (though I still do everything possible to avoid math).

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Wearing Your Drunzel and Dopas


My Grandmother's maiden name was Nussbaum which she swore wasn't Jewish. Maybe it wasn't. Nussbaum can be either a German or a Jewish name. On the other hand, being a Jew in her little rural community in Illinois coming up on the turn of the century wasn't a popular thing to be so no one could blame the family for fudging it. She looked almost exactly like this cartoon - iron gray hair in a bun, glasses, always with an apron (although she never would have worn heels or a necklace). She was sterner than she was sweet but she had to be, raising four children on her own in the early 1900's.

Grammie had a language all her own. We all picked up on it and my generation still uses many of the descriptive words from her vocabulary. Somehow, they just seem more fitting and colorful than ordinary terms. For instance, she often let things brutzle on the back of the stove. Brutzling was a little less than boiling and a little more than simmering. When she used the broom to give the kitchen a less than motivated lick and a promise, she swintzled it. Same thing with ironing. If you just pressed your blouse quickly, not paying much attention to detail, you roshpeled it. When you lay in your bed enjoying that dreamy state between sleep and full wakefulness, you were fowlencing.

To Grammie, an old worn-out robe that you clung to was a drunzel. A beat up old pair of shoes were dopas.

If you came home, having had too much to drink but not really drunk, you were pasoofah. Her circle of family and friends were the Carottles. In her lexicon, Carottles seemed to mean a rowdy, loving family that sometimes feuded but defended one another against outsiders no matter what. Sort of like the Duck Dynasty family if they really were the Duck Dynasty family instead of rich Yuppies in disguise.

Maybe these are all real German and/or Jewish words (if so, they are probably all spelled wrong). I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't Grammie providing us with a secret family language that started my lifelong fascination with words.

We moved a lot when I was a kid and I can remember loving to hear the rich accents of South Carolina, like fudge bubbling on the stove. And the soft drawl of Texas when a man in a cowboy hat leaned into  car to give us directions. "Want some cow in that?" a Montanan once asked Dad, which meant, "would you like cream in your coffee?" And when we lived in the east among the regional dialects of Massachusetts and Maine, I sometimes had to ask people to repeat themselves before I understood them. When we moved to California, I was told Hoosiers talked through their nose although of course, I thought I had no accent at all.

Professions often have their own language too. When I worked for the Sheriff's Department, I learned a whole new set of harsh phrases - "cuff'em and stuff'em" and "hook'em and book'em" and "smash and grab".  "That don't feed the bulldog" and "clusterfuck". "Holster-sniffer" and "'Scrotebag". "Drop a dime" and "zero-dark-thirty".

Becoming a NASCAR fan, I discovered terms like "drive it like ya' stole it" and "bump and run" and "pit lizard" (which is NASCAR's version of "holster sniffer") and "Boogity, boogity, boogity". I learned about The Big One and what a Darlington Stripe is and what it means to be "on the throttle". (Unlike NASCAR folks back in the day, fewer current drivers sound like they come from the South).

Language, in general, is getting more generic, like the exits off the interstate in so many American cities. Distinctive regional dialects and accents are disappearing and all news reporters sound like they came from Nowhere-in-Particular, USA. But it doesn't have to be that way in writing. We can make our characters sound as colorful as we like in our stories. Maybe, in the end, it will be up to us to keep this rich and picturesque part of our national heritage alive.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Karma is Only a Bitch if You Are


My favorite thing about a brand new year has always been calendars. I love the fresh newness of them, the unlimited potential they contain in all those blank spaces. I love the way they tell you where you're going and where you've been and how, when the year is over, they are a small journal of your life in 365 days.

The calendars they choose to live by are a clue to their owner's psyche. If they are devout, they will often have a calendar that contains inspirational Bible verses. If they are animal lovers, their calendar will feature precious puppies or cunning kittens or beautiful horses. If they yearn for Big Water in a year mostly filled with the mundane of flat cornfields, their calendars will show pictures of beaches and hammocks and palm trees to illustrate where they wish they were instead of where they are. If they need a small lift each day, Maxine may share a humorously, cynical message. Back in the day, Calvin and Hobbes was one of my favorites.

There are calendars filled with sexy, scantily-clad women or men and calendars glorifying fast cars or Harley Davidson motorcycles or, for that matter, John Deere tractors. The selections are endless in picking a calendar to suit your personality - sports and tigers, dolls and porches, birdhouses and roses, movie stars and history and babies. Each month is a new photo to daydream over and another new start.

If you go out of your way to buy a calendar, you probably put your money where your heart is. My main calendar for the last many years, has been a Jimmie Johnson calendar. It sits on my desk and reminds me that it will soon be the weekend. I feel a small thrill of anticipation each time I think of seeing the 48 car taking to the track at Daytona or Darlington or Talladega.

Free calendars often tell a tale of what charities touch you in your deepest self. My options were from among the ones that come as a result of donations Mom or I made to the Wildlife Defense Fund (wolves or wild horses being my first choices) or the Wounded Warriors Project or Greenpeace or the ASPCA or any charity that helps children.... We kept our favorites and gave the rest away.....letting our friends choose between birds and flowers and mountains and waterfalls.

Some unimaginative people see calendars as simply practical objects. They put up one that comes to them at of car parts or something.....or perhaps car parts are interesting and exciting to them because they love what they do. Those are the luckiest people of all - those who look forward to each day because their lives are satisfying and fulfilling.

That is my wish for you in 2014. Build good karma because karma is only a bitch if you are.