Thursday, December 30, 2010

That was the year that was... 2010!

Research; research; research! Lest this quickly degenerate into a potentially political rant, let me waste no time and RESOLVE to suggest a context for my opening words without further ado!

Again, once more into the proverbial…

I sit here, late, typing this post, recovering from a bout of some influenza-like compound viral infection and complying – with some degree of similarity to an Arthur C Clarke automaton – with my usual MO: if in doubt about what the content of my next blog post is to be, then research, my dear boy, research; RESEARCH, I say.

So, having sallied forth onto the “www” airwaves, after flu-enforced abstention, I find myself deeply indebted to what I consider the relatively naff levels of journalism to be found on some of the Web’s information superhighway.

A blog about New Year’s Resolutions? Indeed!

Indeed… I do so remember them… weren’t NYRs the things yon adults pressurised us kids to become compliant with? (Auto-suggestion, I believe, is the technique employed in order to suggest the next round of KPIs required in qualifying for the next annual Xmas Santa Sack bonus.) Those resolution thingys – the forerunner of the Hard-Dad School of Management performance management initiatives… Yes, those! Those which were so clearly well forgotten mere moments into a drunken Fête La Nouvelle Année. Such fond memories!

It was with some horror, therefore, that in my research concerning contemporary takes on attitudes to the vexing question of “whether to be or not to be a supporter of the age old tradition of doing something so meaningless as to set plans for the sole purpose of ignoring them”, I stumbled on a list of the Top 10: New Year's Resolutions All Men Should Make. (And I have to admit, it seems to have been published on an English web site!)

Before I go further, I have to state that I do not DO New Year’s Resolutions… If you get to where I’ve got to in life I reckon what you least need to hinder you is a set of expectations! I digress.

So, this week, I shall offer a self-analysis against the Top Ten list (which I happen to regard is a joke – though I will freely admit, with my sense of humour, only I may get it!)
Let’s see how I did in 2010…

No.1 Visit a new destination: In my dreams. Always! The great thing about being imaginative and creative and getting to write fiction is that there are no boundaries or travel restrictions in life. We can go where the hell we please, when the hell we want to and as cheaply as chips! And if, in the great scheme of things, you get the bonus of a day-job and a boss that wants to send you to interesting places like Libya, then that’s the icing, baby! (Score 10/10. Forecast for 2011: Did someone mention Iran?)

No.2 Help someone else: The feel-good factor. Did I? Could I? Let me think… well, there was… (no, that wont wash in public)… there was… (struggling here) …well, I did get a friend of mine a job… I did try to help, honest… In reality, one can spend so much time trying to survive one’s self, that it is difficult to achieve much else. But my advice is always freely and affectionately given. (Score 3/10. Forecast for 2011: At least keep better notes of who I have advised in the past!)

No.3 Conquer a fear: Pardon? Why? Fear is what keeps me alive to possibilities. Fear is a tangible realisation of the acceptance of risk, and without appreciation of risk there can be no appreciation of reward. If I am not afraid when I step into a dodgy taxi cab in far off land, I would never be awake to the possibilities that might unfold… Now where would that leave me as a writer? A severe case of writers block, no doubt. (Score 0/10. Forecast for 2011: Be very, very afraid!)

No.4 Open a savings account: You cannot be serious!!! Why… I’m an author, not a celebrity. I also work for a living and, having been an entrepreneur, have sunk so much into the foundations of my previous businesses that they are now being dug up to support the walls of British and European banks… what chance do I, a mere mortal, have to save a penny? (Score 0/10. Forecast for 2011: 0/10 ’nuff said.)

No.5 Do P90X: Must be a typo… (especially at my age)

No.6 Devote more time to your hobbies: (really? who devised this cr**?) Hobbies? I have tons of those. If I devote anymore time to them I will be in danger of actually becoming good at one of them. They are a diversion. I do not need more time on hobbies. I do need to devote more time to writing, but that is not a hobby, it is a passion… it just doesn’t pay the mortgage (yet!). (Score 7/10. Forecast for 2011: To fail at this even better. Try for a realistic 4/10)

No.7 Go to a career conference: This must be a joke. Doesn’t the originator of this top ten list realise there is ageism in the work place? It might work for a twenty/thirty year old. But, really, what the hell is one of me going to get out of a career conference? How can such a list be applicable for ALL MEN? The arrogance of the writer! Such a blinkered view of the world (must have a part-time role in career counselling). (Score 0/10. Forecast for 2011: Take positive action against career counsellors – sign a petition, join a protest movement or something.)

No.8 Make an appointment for a check-up: Ha Ha! Got you. On top of this one! And its all thanks to our brilliant National Health Service… at my age the good doctors and nurses at my local clinic send for me every now and again, to have a check. Apparently it’s automatic now I’ve matured (somewhat). Well, it wasn’t exactly a full road check this year, but I did visit. (Score 6/10. Forecast for 2011: Not sure. I’ve no idea how the health service works! What is the schedule of tests? I’ll just wait and see.)

No.9 Read a big book: Now this just sets me a dilemma. If I am reading I am not writing. But I must admit that I have actually read some books this year. A substantial improvement on 2009 when I believe I finished at least one book… This year I even managed a full trilogy! No wonder I have just had to recover with a cold towel wrapped round my head and having to lay in a darkened room for a few days. But, in retrospect, having got through it, I enjoyed the experience. (Score 9/10. Forecast for 2011: Not another trilogy, please!)

No.10 Build a shelf: Well, I can finish 2010 on a high. Not exactly a shelf, but I did construct and install a two-metre-fifty, fitted cupboard in my lounge… It took a little while (working at weekends only) but it now carries a ton of cables and audio visual gear neatly out of sight. (Score 10/10. Forecast for 2011: Well, there is that one-meter-sixty space to the right of the fireplace that could take a log store…)

Happy resolution making for 2011. Me? I think I’ll just borrow some when I need to! :)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Well, Here We Go Again

It seemed like it was just this time last year that we approached a new year. And, just like then, many of our new year’s resolutions have been unmet. So, with apologies to Monica, we dust ourselves off and try again.

In retrospect, though, I think it might be wiser to set some goals and do away with the word “resolutions" because it is a word that people happily use before New Year's Day and then despise for the next 364 days. "Goals" sounds much better and more appealing.

If I want better resolution, I’ll buy a flat screen HD TV.


(Think about it)

Right now, however, I will tell you some of the things I actually did get done that I set out to do for 2010:

1)      I got published, twice officially and thrice technically (my novella Crawl continued in serialization with Spectacular Speculations). Of course, the publications were the e-book anthologies Dark Tidings, Vol. I and Vol. II, but I’ll take what I can get.

2)     I did get acceptance for three of my short stories to be published, in three different genres no less. A science fiction tale will appear in the upcoming Far Space 2 anthology, while a horror tale and thriller will go into Rebel Tales. The publishers of Rebel Tales want me to give them a science fiction short, but I think I’m out of those at the moment.
3)     I got back into “extras” work in movies, after missing out to work at the Census. I was a senior detective on the pilot for “Detroit 1-8-7,” a deputy for “Franklin & Bash,” a pedestrian in Hall Pass and, best of all, got to see Jennifer Aniston in pasties from five feet away on Wanderlust.

And, now, I will show you what I’ve set forth for myself for 2011:

A)    To be physically published, not just in e-book form on Smashwords. After that deal with Mystic Moon Press fell through for Hunters, I’ve been fine-tuning that book, as well as Land of the Blind. Time to get off my ass and get them to where I can hold them in my hands (especially Hunters since I’m giving folks a free peek over at Free Fantastical Fiction)

B)    To find regular employment (no-brainer there)

C)    Be more sociable and not live vicariously through others. You’ll notice that I have no family info on my bio, not even two Pomeranians (sorry, but those evil MinPins are my brother’s)

D)   Get into more movies in meatier roles (still pissed I couldn’t do Fast & Furious Five; they wanted me to be one of the bad guys)

E)    Actually read the blogs of all my fellow writers and not skip over the ones written by people who think two initials substitute for first names

F)    Be even more sociable than before. So, goodbye money and hello Fannie’s Cabaret, LatinEuro, Cherry Blossoms,, Zoosk and eHarmony

G)   Stop letting myself get so riled up by the comments on Yahoo! News. I’m pretty sure the next president will not unite the country because I do not want to be near any of these pinheaded, extremist, racist, one-dimensional, inbred, moronic pricks (pardon my English) and, finally, 

H)   Change the pictures in my profiles for, FaceBook, MySpace and Wicked Writers. For some reason, certain people think I look like I’m about to either kick someone’s ass or complete a contract hit.

Okay, folks. That’s a wrap for Gregory Marshall Smith in 2011. I want to thank everyone who put up with my stuff in 2010. I also want to thank the readers who saw fit to cut down on my page views so that C.J. could win the popularity battle (living near D.C. and being from N.J., she could use the good news).

Take care and I will “see” you, God willing and the river don’t rise, on January 11, 2011.

Monday, December 27, 2010

What is Number One on YOUR List?

Our topic this week is New Year's Resolutions. Do you make 'em? Do you break 'em? Do you think it's a waste of time?

Personally, I enjoy making resolutions. I look at them as goals, or aspirations, not necessarily like I'm a failure if I don't fulfill one. We each face enough pressure in our daily lives, why take on more that is self-imposed?

My goals for 2011:

1) Finish book two in my series, titled The Hunt. I've given myself a workable time frame and editing window as well. This one has the most pressure because I've already told people when the book is coming out. Wah-pesh! Time to get my ass in gear.

2) Start and finish book three for release 11-11-11 (I'm going with the whole 10-10-10 release from this year and hopefully building on it for 12-12-12, after that I'm kinda shit outta luck with numbers).

Okay those are the work goals - but what about personal resolutions? Strangely enough, they also tend to be work oriented—be more disciplined with writing, stop taking on so much, stop volunteering, stop trying to do it all.

I need to have a better balance in my life and so far it's been darn hard trying to figure it all out. For so long now I've been running at ninety, most months it's with a near empty tank, and I'm pretty sure it's not helping my health.

First and foremost, I need to get healthy. I've been sick for so many years now I've forgotten what it's like to have the strength to play a physical sport with my kids. My attempt at volleyball this past summer had me sitting out in under five minutes with an icepack on my wrist for the next two hours (and the swelling was so bad, Pete started to freak). I served the ball twice and it looked like I slammed myself in a car door or something. It didn't hurt much; I think it was just a weird reaction with all the meds I'm on. *shrugs* Who knows?

So how will I get healthy? I resolve to take all the damn antibiotics and supplements the doctors suggest, sit through hours of IV infusion treatments each week, rest, eat balanced meals, avoid alcohol as much as I can... which is pretty damn hard for me, I do like a drink with dinner.

I resolve to push my weak butt away from the computer. To stop using my lack of strength as an excuse to sit here for hours organizing, writing, blogging, emailing, updating—basically planning world domination—and to finally exercise.

Yes, I hate exercising. I hate feeling weak and it only emphasizes how much the various strains of bacteria in my body have debilitated me. I've dropped out of my yoga classes because I can't hold a pose. Hell, my damn arms and legs just give out and I hate being the center of attention with the worried glances and people asking about me.

Sure, have me tell a joke, relay a story, talk shop, and I have no problem with all eyes on me. Damn, I could talk to a wall and swear later the wall talked back. But to be physically weak? It's the hardest thing to endure when you feel strong inside.

I guess it's easy to pick a resolution when I really think on it. My number one New Year's resolution is to get healthy and stay healthy. I will not let the bacteria eating away inside me define who I am. I will rally, I will work at it, and I will become stronger.

I have to. I have many stories inside me just waiting to be told.

What is your number one resolution? And how hard are you willing to work to see it come true?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Winter Time

Greetings and salutations, Wicked Readers and Writers alike. What do you think of our new digs? Remember to be kind. It is the charitable time of year, you know?

Our prompt this week is simply: Winter Time. When Anastasia and I spoke about this subject a week ago or so, we seemed to be inclined to allow the prompt to be a all-encompassing one, rather than to simply go for the Christmas theme. I think that was good. If you might find yourself tired of the hustle and bustle that is the holiday season, perhaps you'd like to think of something else just now. If so, then you've found the right place.

Here in the Central Valley of California, just south of Fresno, we get mild winters. Snow is just an hour or so away, but at our altitude it is pretty much non-existent. We don't get powerful wind storms, nor a ton of hail. In the valley we get earthquakes, although we don't get them often. We hear about them more often than we actually feel them. What we do get, however, is heat.

Obviously we don't get heat now, but when it does arrive during the summer, it isn't a lot of fun. Many of you might be asking what kind of heat it is that we receive? Is it the kind of hot that is so full of humidity that once you depart from the shower, you feel the instant need to climb right back in? No, thankfully. However, it is severe. It gets to be in the mid 100's, climbing as high as 110 on occasion. We have air conditioning in our homes and cars, but when it gets that bad, you don't want to do anything.

So why am I bringing up such a subject? Well, I'll tell you. As the rain comes down heavily in my part of the world this week, and much of last week as well, I shall not complain. Now that everything pretty outside my windows has lost its colorful leaves or flowers and looks like a twisted mangled mess that might be more fitting adorning a castle, I shall continue to hold my tongue. When these rains depart, leaving behind thick fog, making car travel extremely difficult, I will only frown. The sky may be overcast, the ground may be wet and trampled, the once-beautiful yards and gardens of my neighbors' homes may be nothing to behold, but summer is coming. And bringing with it a stifling, debilitating heat which makes life no fun unless you own a pool and can afford to live in it.

Or better yet, leave for the coast.

Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate the season. Happy Holidays to those that celebrate one of the other dates of note. Happy New Year to every one of us. May the new year bring continued health or a renewal of it. Much success to all who endeavour to write. May there be many more things to celebrate in the coming year, be it weddings, births, new jobs or published novels and short stories. I have had a lot of fun penning these posts for Wicked Writers, as well as the other blogs and Kings River Life Magazine articles that I have found myself working on this past year of discovery. This year of the realization of dreams.

May 2011 be a realization of dreams for all of us.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

...And the Countdown is On...

With intense anticipation, I stare at my wall calendar across from my bed. Only nine more days. Nine. More. Frickin. Days. Left. To this miserable year.You know, the year 2010 really sucked.

Big Time.

In the first half of 2010, I lost a job, my insurance, the house, the van, 3/4 of my possessions and my six front teeth.

The second half of the year brought a diagnoses of diabetes, a major life threatening allergic reaction to medication changes, a bone graft that didn’t take (for my teeth implants), and ended in a grand finale of a ripped Sartorius muscle, the longest muscle in the body – which by the way, left me bed-ridden for weeks and not able to sit for extended periods of time. This latest development will take me a few months to heal.

I call it my ‘parting gift’ from the year that assaulted me. (*insert heavy sigh)

To add salt to my wounds, my three holiday stories that were submitted in 2009 and suppose to be published this holiday, were sent back to me as the e-zine went under in November.

Did I mention the year 2010 sucked?

As I take comfort in my moment of self pity, I remind myself not to forget the good things about 2010. Like finding a small but safe place to live, qualifying for the free mental health drug program for my bi-polar needs and rescuing a half dead kitten who has taught me how to love again.

And even though I was the 2010 poster child for a walking life hazard, I actually met 14 out of 15 goals/resolutions made at the beginning of the year.

Yep. You read that right.

In January, I was a part of a Yahoo writing group who sat down and wrote out writing goals for the year. I was fairly optimistic about the whole thing. After all, 2009 hadn’t treated me too badly. So I jotted down all the things I wanted to accomplish writing-wise during the year. Someone said I was setting myself up to fail, but I didn’t think so. I felt strong enough to accomplish them all.

Here is the list:

  1. Get my website completed (hey, it’s not much, but it’s done!)
  2. Attend at least two writing conventions (I attended three: one in OH, two on-line)
  3. Enter more writing contests (I entered two more than in 2009)
  4. Join a second critique group (I did for a while, then quit both b/c of bickering)
  5. Continue to e-mail authors when I’ve enjoyed their book (total = 87 e-mails )
  6. To do more timed writing (I squeaked by with eight more sessions than in 2009)
  7. To blog somewhere two times a month (I’ve been here since July!)
  8. To take at least one Internet workshop a month (year total = 27 workshops)
  9. Aim to write everyday (some days it was a paragraph, other days ten pages)
  10. Learn a new word every day (I did – just don’t ask me all of them)
  11. Trim down my Yahoo groups to five (easier than I thought)
  12. Trim down my favorite daily websites to ten. (easier said than done, but done)
  13. Only pay for the writing organizations I ACTUALLY use. (It surprised me – yes)
  14. Write at least the first draft of two novels (they sit on my hard drive as we speak)
  15. Submit something to a publisher (…errr…, nope. Nada. Zilch.)

When I look back at this list (in light of all the problems I had), my chest puffs out and I feel damn proud. And if I could do it without further aggravating my hip/groin/thigh/knee injury, I would be doing the ‘Snoopy Dance’ on my desk. Or at least Balki's (from the sitcom Perfect Strangers ) dance of joy or, quite possibly, a rendition of Ren and Stimpy’s ‘Happy Happy, Joy, Joy...’

However, the one that missed the mark – number 15? It glares at me with accusing accuracy that, as a writer, I am a loser and a failure.

Awww, but George! Don’t be so hard on yourself. Look at the other 14!

I have. What I see is me, yet again, procrastinating by accomplishing the little things and not concentrating on the only thing that matter: submitting something to a publisher.

I mean, that’s what a writer does, right? Write and submit. Submit and write. As a writer, you can’t get anywhere if you don’t submit something.

I have a bunch of stuff to submit. In fact, I have had three publishers contact me after a workshop and ask to see the first few chapters of a WIP – and contact me back saying they want the whole thing when I am done.

Yet, I keep going overboard with edits. I place it aside and start something better. I make excuses and sink my time and energy into other things that – yeah, they are important to a point, but do they supersede submitting material to a publisher?

And it’s not really a fear of failure – it’s a fear of success, because when I do it once, I will have to do it again – and what if my sophomore effort is sophomoric and less than desirable? What if I have another physical year like this year and the pressure to balance both writing and living is too much?

What if the Mayan’s calendar is right and the world ends December 21, 2012 – and I still don’t have anything published?

So, for this coming year – for 2011, I, George Allwynn, being of a medicated mind and a buff (in my dreams) body, hereby declare in front of my peers: the only thing I have on my New Years Resolution Goal list is….


Enough said.

May your 2011 be filled with love, peace, prosperity and success.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Snowwomen and Other Winter Fun

Sorry this post is a little late, but I totally spaced! I had this post planned out even and still forgot. I blame the craziness of the holidays. Yes...that's my story and I'm stickin to it.

So, instead of posting about the upcoming holiday, I thought to post about winter memories instead.

I grew up in Nebraska where it was a guarantee to have a blizzard or five every winter. Then I moved to Georgia when I was 15. It's laughable how people react to snow down here!

My first day at my new school ended up being cancelled because of the CHANCE that the rain MIGHT freeze. I laughed the entire day! And guess what? It didn't rain at all until 7 pm. Of course I know that Georgians aren't used to the idea of a layer of ice on the rods - under 5 feet of snow. But still. I found it highly amusing.

But I think my greatest winter memory would have to be the time me and my neighbors built a 7 foot tall snow woman (anatomically correct of course).

Across the street from us lived twin boys and I'm sad to report I don't remember their names any more! With a fresh layer of snow on the ground we decided to build a snowman. It was the perfect type of snow too - wet and sticky!

So we made the base but discovered all three of us made a huge snowball each. Instead of deciding which one to use, we put them together and packed in more snow to make one gigantic base. The middle came next, and took some manuervering to get it ontop of the base.

Of course, the really complicated part was putting the head ontop. We dug out foot holes in the back of the snowman and climbed up the top. Then through a sheer miracle and show of strength, we managed to get the head ontop.

Of course came the face, made with large rocks for eyes and a smile and a carrot nose. But we were lost how to dress the thing.

The boys decided to make it a woman and added an *ahem* endowed chest to her. But it was a good thing they did as a large blue tarp made an easy dress!!

I wish I still had a picture of it but sadly I don't. A small article showed up in the town's newspaper about it too! Maybe I should try to look that up but I don't know if the small town would have archives online!

What about you? Do you have any special winter memories of snowmen (or women) or an epic snowball fight?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas... a time for giving!

At this time of good cheer (bah humbug!) I wondered what I could blog about that would fit with the mood of the holiday season! A challenge indeed, for one who has his head down in his day job, wishing for more time to devote to his writing! Anyway, for the past two evenings, I have been pacing the streets of London - well, one street in particular - giving away (yes GIVING, for free!) copies of my first novel, "River of Judgement". Have you ever tried to give away stuff to strangers? Not quite as easy as you might think. Well, the story goes something like this...

(With my apologies to: Simon and Garfunkel; Dr Seuss; Alfred, Lord Tennyson; and Sir Paul McCartney and the late John Lennon)

It was a winter's day – in a deep and dark December. I stood alone, gazing from my office window to King Street below. Would that I could recall the freshly fallen silent shroud of snow that had lain on my lawn but a few weeks ago! I am a rock, I am an island.

Then, I had stood with my feet ice cold in the snow. Stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And I puzzled and puzzled 'till my puzzler was sore. Then I thought of something I hadn't before. What if Christmas, I thought, doesn't come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?

I packed my bags of books and sallied forth into the cool, damp night air.

My destination reached, there I now stood. The snow of the past weeks had lifted and the cold abated. (Temporarily – for it was forecast to return with a vengeance at the weekend). There were people to right of me, people to left of me, people in front of me. They were cold & hurried; thirsty, hungry as hell. Boldly they strode forth to the well that was London’s Covent Garden – into the jaws of commerce. Into the mouth of Hell strode (at least) six hundred.

I took courage and, approaching a passer-by, said...

“Dear Sir, would you like a copy of my book? It took me months to write, will you take a look? It's a novel by me... (pausing for effect)...I am a paperback writer!

A long, expectant pause...

No response, so I continued

“It's the thrilling story of a desperate man, his business partner didn't understand. It's three hundred pages, give or take a few, I'll be writing another in a month or two. But right now, though, I need a break... I want to be a (famous) paperback writer!”

And the passer-by passes me by, hands raised defensively in a sceptical, distrustful shrug!

I ask you... Try to be generous!

Ah! But I have a secret weapon! Enter Michele, my (now brunette, ex-blonde) belle.

“Michele, my belle, sont les mots qui vont tres bien ensemble.”

“Pardon?” says Michele.

“I need you to...” I pause, finding I need to repeat myself over the noise of buskers and shoppers. “I need you to... I need you to...”

“What,” she says, impatiently. (I hadn’t given her the script!)

“I need you to make them see... oh, what my book means to me. Until I’m done, I'm hoping you will know what I mean.”

“Get away with you,” she laughs... and relieves me of a pile of books and disappears into the crowd.

A few metres, a few metres, a few metres onward, all in the valley of commerce she wandered, amidst the six hundred

“Forward,” I call out, “my belle!”

“Charge for the mulled wine,” she cried back. And into the valley of commerce, she continued into the six hundred.

“Mulled wine?” shouts I. Then, thinking some, I add “...sont les mots qui vont tres bien ensemble, tres bien ensemble.”

So there I stood, again! People to right of me, people to left of me, people in front of me. Still cold & hurried, thirsty, and hungry as hell. Still boldly striding forth within the well that was London’s Covent Garden – the jaws of commerce.

Again I took courage and, approaching another passer-by, said...

“Dear Madam would you like a copy of my book? It took me months to write, will you take a look? It's a novel by me... (again pausing for effect)...I am a paperback writer!

Pause. She stopped, turned and smiled...

Now what? I think, surprised. A response! Quickly I continue...

“It's the thrilling story of a desperate man, his business partner didn't understand. It's three hundred pages, give or take a few, I'll be writing another in a month or two. I am a paperback writer!”

“Why, thank you, kind sir. If I may, I’d be pleased to take a look.” And if I really like it, can I buy the rights... (Yeah! In my dreams, dear reader!)

“If you like it, you can pass it on... Merry Christmas, I hope you have fun! I am a paperback writer!"

And the passer-by passes me by, hands clutched around a copy of my book.

'Forward, to the mulled wine!' says Michele, reappearing. “I’ve handed out all my books, youv’e taken your time!

“Was there a man dismay'd?’ I ask.

“Not tho' anyone would know,” she says.

“Some peeps have blunder'd... why be so distrustful.

“Ah!’ she exclaims, ‘theirs is not to make reply, theirs is not to reason why, theirs is but to do or buy!”

“Yeah,” I agree. “Into the valley of commerce they continue, but not all the six hundred.”

“Let’s get that mulled wine,” says Michele.

“Sorry, the wine’s gone! Look, there’s a stall selling hot spicy Somerset cider.’ We change direction.

“That’ll do nicely, this cold night!’

“Of course...,” I add, ‘It could have been my hat that put some off!”

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Out With the Bad, In With the Good?

Out With the Bad, In With the Good?

For those of us who remember eagerly waiting for Santa’s visit down the chimney, we must also remember one all-important question – have we been naughty or nice?

Of course, in my youth, that question was not at the top of my mind. My house didn’t have a fireplace and I knew the chimney went straight to the furnace, so I was always afraid for Santa. As I got older, though, I became less concerned with Santa burning to a crisp, as long as his elves put my bike near the tree.

But, for those who had less creepy Christmas memories, were you, indeed, naughty or nice?

I ask this because it seems like it is becoming harder and harder to find “nice” in these heady days of the Great Recession. The partisanship in Congress, the political gridlock, the increasingly slanted news, the Red State-Blue State crap and, especially, the blatant elitism, religious prejudice and outright racism toward a certain head of state makes it hard to believe there are still nice things in the world.

In fact, I think we may have temporarily solved our dependence on foreign oil because I imagine a lot of people will be heating their homes with all the coal they should be getting in their stockings.

Anyway, the real reason for my rambling is that I began to wonder if we shouldn’t write so much about the bad things and try to focus more on the good things.

I got the idea from my trip to and from Boston on Amtrak.

On the way up to Boston, I was able to take some spectacular video of the Blue Ridge Valley at dawn. I posted it on FaceBook and got some wonderful comments. I thought the early morning views of the hills and farms more than made up for the dilapidated buildings and boarded up row houses that greeted the train’s entry into Baltimore.

(For the record, the passage through Mystic, Connecticut is just as nice).

On the return trip, however, we left Penn Station on time at 2:15 p.m. That meant we’d be passing through the Blue Ridge Valley at night when you can’t see anything. Bummer. Wanting to take some video of something, I went with the approach to Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love.

Talk about a downer. I thought I was seeing post-war Berlin. Burnt out buildings. Ruins. Boarded up houses. Gang graffiti everywhere. Wrecks of human beings trudging down cold streets.

I actually thought I was in New Jersey until we passed through the North Philadelphia train station. I couldn’t imagine Bruce Springsteen including this part of town on his “Streets of Philadelphia” montage.

I actually thought someone should pass a law requiring cities to at least make the neighborhoods along the tracks at least half-way presentable. Visitors to places like Philly, Baltimore, D.C. and Newark might get the wrong impression (or maybe the right impression) after seeing those kinds of sights.

But, then, I digressed. Weren’t the holidays approaching? Isn’t this the time to wish peace on Earth, good will towards men?

Okay then.

While I may have had conniptions at seeing the war zone-like condition of North Philly, I will, instead, highlight the North Philadelphia Blackhawks, who just won the national Pop Warner football championship in the 120-pound class at Walt Disney World.

The feel-good tone comes from the fact that they didn’t have the money to go. But, Michael A. Nutter, mayor of Philadelphia, did the right thing and got local companies and organizations to give money to the people for a change. He got the team’s expenses covered so that the Blackhawks could go. They thanked him by winning it all.

Maybe there's hope for politicians after all.

Happy Holidays.

Friday, December 10, 2010


We're back, and badder than ever!

Bringing twice the action and twice the thrills, here comes part II.

Does this sound familiar? When you have been promised things like this, do you find that they usually deliver? Does the very thought of a sequel to something that you loved inspire excitement or trepidation?

The reason that I have chosen this particular topic to write about this week, is due to the fact that I have just sent my second novel to my publisher, and yes: it is the dreaded sequel. Another thing that gives me pause is the fact that there is a fairly good chance that there will be a third and final book in the series. Now we’re talking about a trilogy. Does the world really need another trilogy? Could there be anything anymore cliché? For the sake of clarity, we shall leave the trilogy rant for another day, and stick to the current topic.

As many of you hopefully already are aware, my debut novel positions two competing vampires in my real home town of Kingsburg, California. One is as evil as they come, while the other is simply attempting to survive. The first one “created” the second and has in fact been searching across the globe for him as if he were a loose end that he cannot bare to have untied. The second, though obviously undead, may not be as far from the kingdom of God as he has been led to believe. There are certainly other characters as well: the new mayor that is concerned once the bodies begin to pile up that she will fail at the city’s biggest tourist event; the police detectives who must discover who is responsible for the terrible crimes and stop them; and the family of one detective who crosses paths with both vampires.

One of the reasons why sequels get a bad name or leave a terrible taste in the mouths of many, is due to the entertainment industry’s often unscrupulous delight in pursuing the almighty dollar at the cost of quality. Realizing that the sequel has a built-in audience, they cut back on advertising and, perhaps more importantly, the money spent securing quality of story, actors and effects to name a few. It is my understanding that no one wanted to make the original Planet of the Apes. However, once it was made, and made a lot of money, the powers that be immediately set about to make another one. But this time, with their audience secured, they cut back on the budget for it. For the third film, they cut the budget even further. For those of us who have seen all of the films, it is painfully evident that the quality of the productions deteriorated with each subsequent release.

With the novel, the concern here might simply be the rush to slap a story together and get it on a book shelf, virtual or otherwise. We do not necessarily need to name names here; we all have our opinions. In my instance, I hope you will trust that this second novel of mine indeed needed to be told; and that I’m not simply doing it for any other reason, much less for money. There may be money in the future, but 2010 has been about nothing but Public Relations.

My second book, Dance on Fire: Flashpoint, is about revenge for what occurred in Dance on Fire; as well as to show the growth of one of my vampires who may or may not be beyond redemption. We get to see the characters as they have grown older; especially the young children. The twins were essentially babies in the first novel, and I was particularly excited to write them five years older as they prove to be extremely important in the entire story, however many novels it ends up being. They very well may end up being the focal point of the third novel which is currently but an outline.

So, my question to you folks, dear Wicked Readers, is what is your opinion regarding sequels? I imagine that many of you have your favorite series that you follow religiously, while some may have grown sour to some as time has gone by. Certainly there have been some series that have attempted to continue long after the original author passed away.

What would be some of those that you cling to? As I have mentioned before, I immediately pick up every Kay Scarpetta novel of Patricia Cornwell's, as well as every Michael Slade Special X thriller. How about you? I would love to hear from you.

P.S.: During my last post, I whined about potentially being unable to decorate my house after Thanksgiving due to my recent allergy flair up. I posted "before" photos and promised to reveal the "after" photos. They're a bit blurry, but here they are:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Important December Anniversaries

Ahhh, December! Noted for being the month of ‘peace on earth, good will toward man’ with all its many religious observances, it is also the month with some pretty interesting ‘anniversaries.’ Past events taking place in the wonderful, wacky world of December include:

  • Van Gogh cuts off his ear
  • Rosa Parks gets arrested
  • Rock group Led Zeppelin disbands
  • The national flag of Canada becomes the only world-flag with a leaf
  • The Simpsons television show debuts
  • The Endangered Species Act goes into American law
  • Flight 19 disappears in the Bermuda Triangle
  • The infamous ‘chad’ debate is resolved, designating George W Bush as president.
  • Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’ performed for the first time
  • Earthquakes in Hengchun (2006), Indian Ocean (2004) and Bam (2003) happen on the same calendar day.
  • John Lennon murdered in front of his NYC home
  • Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate re-opens, unifying East and West Germany
  • Small pox declared ‘completely eradicated from nature’
  • George Washington crosses the Delaware River
  • ---and, one that makes me smile – Edward VIII abdicated the royal throne for his American Sweetheart, Wallis Simpson.

However, of these and the many other worldwide events that did not make this list, the one that best defines the month of December for me is the one event that affected me the most.

1976. The burning of the Keetch farmhouse.

I remember the day well. Our sixth grade class was all a-buzz. It was Friday, December 17 and, within four hours, our official Christmas party would start. It was snowing outside, Christmas vacation was just around the corner, and there was not a single problem in my 12-year-old world.

Until 9:45 that morning.

The crackle of the intercom box alerted the classroom that Joe Keetch was to be sent to the office. A chorus of hushed sniggers and “awww – you’re in trouble” washed over us fidgety students and instantly turned into groans as Mrs. Chappa felt it was important to assign us an extra page of fractions.

As I watched my good friend and next-door neighbor (the nearest one by a quarer of a mile) trek off to the office, I wondered what was going on. Joe was not one to cause trouble. On the contrary, he was easy going, blended in with the crowd, and never crossed anyone. In fact, he was the type who always tried too hard for people to like him.

The mystery would grow deeper as, within fifteen minutes, Joe returned, his head slunk down as he walked into the coat room and returned with his jacket and boots. Mrs. Cadieux, who accompanied Joe back to the classroom, motioned for Mrs. Chappa. After a brief, whispered conference, our teacher nodded, went over to the class Christmas tree, picked out Joe’s ‘secret Santa gift, a sock full of candy and her gift to him. When he looked up, his expression was blank and his eyes red and wet with tears. He was ushered out of the classroom. This time, our young voices rang out our confusion, shouting out ‘bye’ and ‘Merry Christmas.’

When the door closed behind our teacher, we ran to the windows and watched as she walked Joe out to Deputy Benac’s police car. His younger brothers, Duncan and Larry-Kevin, were already waiting for him inside. Mrs. Chappa gave our classmate a hug and then wrapped her arms back around her plump frame, trying to keep some warmth in her body. She watched the car take off, turned, and headed back to the classroom. We, of course, scrambled back to our seats, noses down and pencils scribbling, sneaking sideways looks at our tablemates.

It was after our first recess Mrs. Chappa decided to tell us what had happened.

“Joe’s home caught on fire this morning. There is nothing left.”

A collective gasp went through our class. Since I was his nextdoor neighbor, I knew his Dad was a farmer and his mom stayed at home with two of his little brothers. “Did everyone make it out? Was it just the house or the barn too?”

Mrs. Chappa smiled. “Everyone is fine. I don’t know about the barn.”

Other questions flew. “What started it?” “Did they have a place to stay?” And, the big one on every student’s mind – “What will they do for Christmas?”

“The firemen say it was faulty Christmas lights. I think they will be staying at a hotel until after the holidays, and then the five brothers will be split up between relatives. As for Christmas, I don’t know what they will do.”

Needless to say, this had put a damper on the classroom Christmas cheer.

By lunchtime, the Keetch’s predicament had burned through the school like wildfire (sorry). It was something that not only affected our 6th grade class, but Duncan’s 4th grade class and Larry Kevin’s 2nd grade class. And, with Christmas vacation starting the next day, there was no time to start a clothing, Christmas present or household drive. If something like this were put off until school resumed, it would just not be the same.

So, at lunch time, me (the class treasurer), the class secretary, class president and the captain of the safety patrol held a powwow. We skipped class and went straight to the principal’s office. Because I had the biggest mouth, I was the one to explain things.

“We could take a class vote. All of our presents and candy can go to the Keetch’s. We could give them our class Christmas tree, too. And we have over $300 from the football game cookie sales. We don’t need a class trip to Mackinaw Island when we could help the Keetch’s this Christmas.”

Mr. Brooks sat back in his seat and looked thoughtfully at the four of us. (I think I shook the most, as that was the first time I was ever in his office and NOT in trouble.) Finally, he broke the silence. “Does Mrs. Chappa know you’re here?

We shook our heads, no.

He scribbled something on a pink slip of paper and called in Mrs. Caudiex. “Please escort these students back to their class. Stay there and have Mrs. Chappa come to my office. Pronto.” Leaving the office, I heard the feedback of a microphone as Mr. Brooks called for the 4th and the 2nd grade teachers. I exchanged guilty glances with my fellow classmates as we followed the office secretary back to our classroom.

To make a long story short, based on our idea, each teacher in the school (a northern class D, K-12th grade was 500 students) polled their classes on how they wanted to contribute.

The result was unbelievable.

I don’t know how many classes donated all their presents, Christmas decorations or party treats.

I don’t know the effort took to keep the gymnasium open until nine pm that night, setting up a donation drop off for clothes, furniture, and other household items.

I have no idea the how, in the limited time, the school reached out to area businessmen. They were able to help by donating a house so the family of seven could stay together (complete with their dogs and cats) while working on clearing the burnt house and rebuilding a new one, big enough to fit the growing boys and keeping in mind it was a farm house.

I DO remember that each class that had a treasury for class trips donated nearly $4,000 dollars to help this family.

And, it all started with four twelve year olds with an idea at lunch time.

This is what Christmas is all about. Giving. Sharing. Helping your fellow man.

I wish we could remember that all year long.

A Christmas dedication to Joseph Lawrence Keetch – 1965-1989 – friend, brother, and so much more. See you on the other side, buddy.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Randomness about Random Things

We still have open topics going on here and I'm not sure what to blog about today, so I'm just going to wing it!

I normally hop around from working on one book to another. This year, I set out to focus on only one book in order to get it ready for publication. My original goal was to have it edited and start submitting by my birthday in May.

That didn't happen.

I set a new goal to have it ready by the 4th of July.

That didn't happen either.

Edit. Edit. Edit. I decided to give myself some more time and set a goal for September 1.

Once again, didn't happen.

However, in October during MuseCon, I pitched the novel to an agent and a publisher. Both made request for partials. I was extactic! First time ever in my life pitching anything and had TWO requests. Now, I new that it wasn't an acceptance but still, I was highly pleased to say the least.

That spurred me to finish the 'final' edits and I thought I had them done by the end of October. But, when I got the first rejection, I knew more work had to be done. Good for me, it was not a form rejection and I recieved feedback and suggetions for improvement.

So, I set out to make these changes while writing the sequal for NaNoWriMo in November. I realized half way through that the beginning of book 2 (about 6 chapters worth) really could be at the end of book 1. It would make for a stronger ending.

SO - now my book is practically back where it was at the beginning of this year. Since focusing on one novel didn't yield the results I wanted (and frankly drove me to near insanity), I decided to return to my normal habit of hopping from one WIP to another whenever it suits me.

I pulled out the notebook for my other series, blew the dust off of it, and got to work. Suddenly, the words flowed easily! The edits didn't make me cross eyed and I no longer felt like pulling all my hair out! I wish I would have decided to return to my old ways sooner, but I was determined.

I gave the new way a fair shot and plenty of time to see if it would really work for me or not. So I don't feel like I completely failed this year. I learned more about myself and my writing style. I know what really works for me know. Instead of my style being something I just did for the sake of it, I now know that it really is the best way for me to do things.

I'll set a new goal for next year based on my style and see what happens. I will say I feel much better than I have in months!

What about you? Have you tried a new method or style or technique that just isn't working? Have you tried something new that did work?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Keeping Up

Hey guys,

First, I apologize for disappearing all November. Even though I dropped out of NaNoWriMo mid-month, I was still a very busy lady. What have I been doing, you ask? Well ... I've been writing ... and submitting what I write ... and writing some more. I wrote a short story and submitted it to a publisher. Now I'm starting a whole new novel WIP. Not just a sequel to the first one I wrote, but an actual brand, spanking-new story.

Now that it's December, I wish I could say things are slowing down, but actually, this show boat is just getting into full swing. On December 14th, I'm going out of town. I'll be in Mexico visiting extended family for two weeks. My grandparents' 50th anniversary is on the 17th and the entire family's attending (my family's huge, I have like 30-something cousins).

I'm exited and soooo looking forward to the vacation. The only slight problem is I'm not sure if I'll have internet while I'm down there, so I might be absent for most of December. But, when I get back, I promise to share pictures and tell you guys all about it.

I'm going to try and write one more post and schedule it for the 20th ... but there's a chance I'll forget to do that while trying to remember what I need to pack! So, in case I don't see you guys until January, have a happy holidays Wicked peeps! Stay warm!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Groundhog Day? or just out with the old, in with the new?

Well, dear readers...

Such a nice new space... I wondered how to do it justice with my post this week.

Everything has changed, yet Wicked Writers remains the same. Is it a Bill Murray case of Groundhog Day, or is it an Aladin's New Lamps for Old?

I'll go for the Arabian influence...

I thought, given my recent missives on my trip to Tripoli, that it would be interesting to see what changes occur as I redraft the opening scene to the sequel to River of Judgement. I did think maybe I could run the two scenes side-by-side and run a "spot the difference" competition. But my knowledge of HTML programming on blog posts would mean I would spend the next day messing about in code and miss the posting deadline (that I am already late for).


Tripoli, Summer 2008

It was not a good day to be hauled out of his hotel bed – out of his afternoon siesta. The Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli had all the comforts he could wish for. But the day had not been good. No! There really had be no good days recently.

The Corinthia suffered from the fact that it had little competition for its International-class accommodation. He’d had his fill of CNN and the hotel’s facilities held no attraction. While the staff were friendly, he’d seen better service and, although his room was clearly modelled on five-star luxury, the price he had been paying since his exit from London was proving outrageous. But, strangely, if it had not been for his circumstances, he might actually have enjoyed the sojourn. He’d always relished his previous trips to Libya. But it was different, then.

Exile was a good descriptor for where he found himself now. Oh, yes! He could roam about if he wished. There were no bars on his windows. He was free to come and go… but to go where? For what reason? He was fed up of the hotel food, but there was little alternative than to eat in. Of course, he could get to the City’s Green Square area, but the walk through the old town rarely seemed worth the effort – he’d become immune to its charm, the gold and silver and colourful silks of the souk. The irony suddenly struck him. Green Square? To the uninitiated, the thought of a public space of trees and historic artefacts held a certain romantic attraction. The reality – his reality – a dust covered green-painted concrete square, for the most part a car park full of dented, salt-corroded rusting vehicles and surrounded by rushing, pushing cars, horns blaring as signals of intent and distraction. Except for Friday, of course.

But today was not Friday. And, at the height of a North African summer, any movement was a game of jumping from what passed as an air conditioned environment to whatever else might pass as an air conditioned environment, such as he could find. A taxi with open windows just did not work – but it really was the only means of getting around. That is, if he could stomach the seemingly lawless nature of the Libyan driving style. The charm was lost on him now.

Aaron longed for the days of his previous visits, the days before all the trouble began, the days before his “exile”, when his frequent visits to Tripoli were marked by a distinct feeling of importance, where traffic seemed not to bother or hinder the progress of the luxurious, chauffer driven cars he was provided with. Ones with proper air-conditioning and no scratches, no odd coloured door panels nor broken and discarded wing mirrors; he was important then. He’d come to love the Tripoli of his past. The Tripoli before Finn Bloody Jackson!

No! For Aaron Philips, fugitive from British justice, today was a bad day, and it was going rapidly down hill. He closed his eyes, briefly.

‘Mr Philips?’ said the man in front of him now. ‘I do have your full and undivided attention, do I not? …Mr Philips?’

His contemplation abruptly terminated, Aaron sat forward on a low, white leather stool – eyes wide, now. He was uncomfortable. His concentration returned to the man opposite. Despite the air conditioning humming in the background, he felt the beads of sweat gather at the nape of his neck, and run, uncontrolled, onto his shirt collar.

The man looked at ease as he sat wearing his traditional cloak of thick white wool, and his matching white, flat-topped brimless hat. Two other men stood, patiently, either side and to the rear of the large sprawling white leather sofa the man occupied. The man’s aides were of similar height and features: around five foot ten or eleven, dark wiry hair cropped short and dark eyes. The one on the man’s left was clearly built to do damage. The other had a neat one-inch scar running perpendicularly upwards from the centre of his right eyebrow. It was no less a sign of competence than the other’s chest measurement. The two stood motionless in clichéd black suits, with black open-necked shirts. The dark, North African features of the three men made a stark contrast with the clean white contemporary lines of the furniture.

‘Yes,’ Aaron said, finally.


A white cat would have been too much. But, surreally, the thought amused Aaron. A white cat would have been welcome; it would have brought with it an air of Hollywood ambivalence – the chance that this encounter was merely some staged joke over which he could conjure his own outcome, if he wished. Take it or leave it. But he could not leave it. This was no joke – just the menacing presentation of a single option for his continued presence on this earth.

The day was not going at all well, thought Aaron. He was, for the first time in his life, scared. He had no idea where all this overt menace was leading.

‘Mr Philips, you…’ began the man, speaking quietly and deliberately. ‘You have created a problem for me and for my clients.’

Aaron was all ears now, intent, listening.

‘We came to you,’ the man continued, ‘…because friends recommended you.’

Friends, Aaron thought. More people with a grudge against me now.

‘You “were”…’

The use of the past tense struck Aaron hard. Unseen, his body reeled from the metaphoric blow. His career was shot, but that seemed the least of his problems.

‘…highly recommended,’ continued the man, who clearly had no interest in what Aaron might be feeling at this moment. ‘We wanted a legal, financial vehicle to move a great deal of our cash through London. You “were”…’

Again the past tense, again the sudden blow to Aaron’s psyche.

‘We are very disappointed. You have cost us a lot of money. It is time, Mr Phillips.’

‘Time?’ echoed Aaron.

‘Yes, time. Time for you to take action.’

‘Time? said Aaron, pathetically. He tried his best not to comprehend what was happening.

‘Time for you to clean up some loose ends.’

‘But…’ began Aaron.

‘No buts, Mr Philips. This is embarrassing for us all. We will, of course, provide you with some assistance. However…’

‘Yes?’ said Aaron.

‘Make no mistake, the situation will be resolved. And in our favour.

Had there been a white cat, then it would have been purring under the attention of its Master.

‘It will, of course, begin without you, Mr Philips.

Aaron felt a chill rake his spine. ‘What will begin?’ he asked. His question was ignored.

The man quickly brought his hands together with a clap, and held his left hand up and out, reaching behind. The aide to his left, with a speed that belied his bulk, deftly produced a mobile phone and placed it in the outstretched hand. The man dialled a number. He spoke again, while waiting for his call to connect. ‘Friends, Mr Philips. We will put you in touch. They will make sure that you do no get… shall we say, arrested? Yes, arrested! They will make sure that you are not arrested.’ The man smiled at his own choice of words. ‘At least until the work is done.’

‘What work? asked Aaron.

‘Come now, Mr Philips. Such naivety in one so cunning as yourself…’ he raised his other hand, signalling a halt in the conversation. He turned his attention to the phone. The other party had replied.

The man spoke briefly in a language that Aaron had not heard him use in past meetings. It was not Arabic. Aaron had heard enough Arabic in his lifetime to sense this was not Arabic. Aaron was puzzled. The man returned his gaze to Aaron, and continued in his perfect Oxford English, as if he had not been interrupted by the call.

‘Ah! Mr Phillips, you are perplexed, are you not? I see your disquiet… I am Berber, a Kabylian – Algerian, if you like. The language is the language of my people, of my friends and my clients.’

Aaron remained mute.

‘I see you did not know that. You have much to learn.’ The man shook his head, slightly. ‘Due diligence, Mr Philips, due diligence… Isn’t that what you accountants live for? Or did the promise of our money so tempt your greed?’

The man paused and smiled, apparently considering if Aaron deserved to know what he had really got involved with. Then, continuing… ‘I would find this situation charming if it was not so potentially disastrous to us. But now the work has begun.’ His smile, toward the nervously seated Aaron, broadened.

‘What work?’ Aaron found himself repeating the question. He was not about to be told more than he needed to know. What the hell have I got himself involved with, he thought.

‘The clean up, Mr Philips. Your clean up.’

The man passed the phone back to his aide and reached his right hand out and behind. This time, Scar, the aide on his right, passed the man a ticket wallet. Swinging his arm around, the man reached forward and held the wallet out to Aaron.

‘Your flight to Paris leaves in one hour, Mr Philips. My aides will escort you. Your case has been packed; it is in the car. And…’ again the man paused, ‘…do not fail us this time.

Aaron sat in stunned silence. The ticket wallet seemed to hover but a foot away from his face. He slowly reached up and took it. The aide on the man’s left moved round to the front of the sofa and stood next to Aaron, placing a hand gently on his arm.

' Il est temps, Monsieur Philips,’ said the aide, in a thick Arabic accent.

For the original draft - having never been to Tripoli before...

My visit to Tripoli, my experiences and talking to some Libyans I met there suggested to me that my original draft would not have held up to scrutiny. Can you spot the differences? Do they add or detract from the original? I would be interested to hear your opinions. Have you ever changed your writing after undergoing a related experience? Do tell.

And I promise that I will mov on to something else next time!