Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Book Review: Four Days with Hemingway's Ghost

Amazon Link
I try to review fairly. But I goofed and must atone for it. I misread the ad for this book. It was the author's other book that was compared to CITR and TKAM. While most of my review is focussed on what was between the sheets, I can't deny my goof influenced me. I'm bumping this up to a low 4.
- - - The original review - - -
Four Days is an nice book with a unique premise, but it is not the next Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird as advertised. If you're looking for social epiphanies, look elsewhere. This story is about Jack Phalen's potential and an unclear atonement for Ernest Hemingway's life that I never did quite understand. The author has woven his version of the magical dream that many novelists have about writing a killer first novel and pulling their financial situation out of the fire by some miracle of divine intervention--here supplied by Papa. He helps Jack believe over a four day period in his innate abilities as a writer (with very, very thin skin) while he clings to life in a coma caused by his own stubbornness.

I'm not a Hemingway expert, but the story needed to delve deeper into Hemingway's life to raise this story to its lofty goals. Only the time spent in Cuba truly seemed filled with some magic and insight. Interesting dead people pop up during Jack's coma-induced journey with Papa, and though at times it felt like name dropping, some characters reinforced common writing tips Jack needs should he decided to remain amongst the living and write rather than go to the hereafter. However, the choice to remain never seemed in doubt.

And here's where Jack's journey falls off the map for me. I didn't care for the whiny Jack upon his return, the Jack who feels he's a modern day Job, beset by the recent economic difficulties while contemplating larceny when things get tight, needing not-so-subtle reminders that he's broken bread with a 50 year dead Ernest Hemingway and been in the unseen presence of the Lord. As a writer/reader, I'm a bit put off by Jack's hubris in dashing off a book, expecting instant success, and well, you'll not get the unrealistic spoiler from me. Suffice to say, I was left with a less than solid message from a book about messages. Four Days is a straddler. For some uniqueness and magic upfront, it could garner a four, but taking the whole book, it rates a top-notch "3".

Monday, October 29, 2012

MMWUC: What if?

Hurricane Sandy is here. NANOWRIMO is knocking. Halloween is grabbing me and tossing Frankenstorm in my face. You don't need a Monday Morning Wake-up Call from me. The Dragon capsule is back on Earth with its own Andromeda strain. Should we worry that 10-20 million people will be without power as the virus spreads? Only those NANOWRIMOites will survive to an uncertain future, ensconced in their hidey-holes typing about vampires and werewolves and wizards and people on strange planets with strange names who act like your snotty little cousins down the street. We know these characters too well.

And what if this Andromeda strain is the good strain? And the bad good people are trying to save us from the hope that it brings to everyone. Maybe the strain makes us all vegans and that saves the Earth or maybe we mutate to the point where we can blink to where we want to go. No, that won't work. A couple million horny young men crashing into each other over the newest Playmate. Silly thought. But it could work.

Everybody now: put two wild ideas together and make a story. Hurricane Sandy causes the electrocution of all the wall streets bankers. Does that make the world economy better or worse?

Yes, this wake-up call is about nothing, but, what if...

Friday, October 26, 2012

Guest Blog: On the Value of Book Clubs, Part 1

Judith Stanton sez...While revising my latest novel again, it occurred to me I’d lost sight of my core readers—you know, the passionate obsessive-compulsive real human beings we writers long for, write to, and depend on to buy our books, recommend them to friends, buy more for birthday and holiday presents.

I work hard at my craft. My critiquing buddies who are steeped in good book-writing theory have scrupulously analyzed my current novel. My New York City agent and his brilliant interns also held under their microscope. They expected a blockbuster bestseller. I wanted one too. So do we all, perhaps, in our heart of hearts. But not at the sacrifice of our stories. Over several revisions, they suggested that I convert my adult Southern family saga horse story with a sabotage theme into—get this—

1) Young Adult fiction. Like National Velvet. Sooo not today’s teenage market. Maybe I should have invented a vampire horse!

2) A redo of The HorseWhisperer. So I read it and watched it again. Downer. It’s not about the horse, it’s about a not very interesting dysfunctional family (the central character a New York City magazine editor—guess who that appealed to!) It took Robert Redford to power it out of its improbable horse story and soap opera of a human tale.

Or 3) Get rid of the “horse stuff” altogether. Ditch the family saga, develop only three key characters into a sicko love triangle, and make it a thriller like The Girl With a DragonTattoo.

Lordy. The books and movies they pointed me to had only one thing in common—their track records—NYTimes Bestseller list (except Velvet but that’s longevity), blockbuster movies, and boatloads of money paid out to authors, agents, directors, and actors and a supporting cast of hundreds.

They were not my story. But my NYC agent seemed wildly out of touch with my horse story and the real audience I believed longed for horse stories.

But what if I was the one wildly out of touch with readers’ deepest dreams? So I asked myself:  what do readers want? And where better to find out than a book club? Clubbers read a book a month for the club alone. Big thick fat expensive books. Serious books. Award-winning books.
I asked about joining a couple of old, established book clubs within driving distance. But book clubs are limited to how many members can fit into someone’s living room, and they were filled.

Then a consummate reader and book-clubbers I’d known for decades had room in her busy life for a new club. She invited four gals, and I asked four more. Amazingly our friends knew each other. More amazing, one year later, I realize I’m getting exactly what I need. One night a month with voracious, articulate, open-minded readers. Their passion for story, character and style blows me away. Their tolerance—even desire for—brutal honesty validates my work.  Their freedom from theory and the technical details I’ve come to obsess over gives me freedom too.

So, fellow writers, think about joining a book club of real readers to get a fresh feel for your audience, to  free yourself from other writers, from agents and editors, and to rediscover the joy of reading. Not drafting. Not critiquing. Not revising.

But reading for fun, reading for adventure, reading to learn and laugh and cry and even worry—How is this character going to get out of that fix? Isn’t that where all of us writers started?

As my book club starts our second year, my fellow readers are directing me to books I never heard of. I’m finding a reawakening of my creative spirit that the only genius of a newly discovered author can inspire. On that note, if you haven’t read Elizabeth Spencer, if you haven’t even heard of her, buy her 1956 The Voice at theBack Door. It is as fresh and relevant today as it was then. It is said that the fiction committee nominated it for the Pulitzer Prize, but the overall committee awarded no prize that year—too controversial, perhaps. Which was a crime, and one we can rectify a bit by reading her now.  You can thank my book club for the recommendation. And think about joining one.
- - -
Judith Stanton - Horse Woman, Author, Editor, and Lecturer
—Qualifying for the Olympics can be deadly for woman and horse.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Blog Hop: All of Our Secrets

I'm honored to be chosen to be part of this blog hop, and I'd like to thank Wendy Laharnar for tagging me to participate. This gives us all a change to view new releases from authors we admire as well as introduce us to some works in progress.

Ten Interview Questions for “The Next Big Thing” are as follows:

Q. What is the working title of your book? I was going to call it, Gone With The Wind, but decided to make it more relevant to my story. So the title is All of Our Secrets.

Q. Where did the idea come from for the book? Well, I expand on this question later on, but the truth is it came about with some frustration over speeding up the pace of getting to the opening death of lead character. It's in the first sentence now...that's hopefully soon enough.

Q. What genre does your book fall under? It's definitely a mystery, but it has a lot more depth to it concerning overcoming grief.

Q. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? One of my final readers suggested a slenderized Philip Seymour Hoffman for the protagonist. Jessica Biel might be nice for his much younger wife. I had David Spade, toned down, in mind when I thought about Chad, Bruce's attorney. When I started this, I thought about Wilford Brimley, playing against type, and taking on the antagonist Detective, Mort Meeker.

Q. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? Bruce Neumanski didn't kill his secretive wife, but her unsavory past cripples his defense against a ruthless detective. 

Q. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? I will be self-publishing through Kindle for e-book; CreateSpace for paperback; Smashwords for all other platforms.

Q. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? The first draft took about two years, and it was kind of funny how I ended up with the first draft. I was up at the family cabin in northern Wisconsin typing away when all of a sudden, I released I was finished, then type: The End. The first draft was 126K words, which I shrunk to about 90K words, and, when all was said and done, it ended up about 108K words.

Q. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?  Anita Shriver's "The Pilot's Wife" has been mentioned as a book with similar overarching themes, a mystery that slowly comes to fruition and the process of grieving over the unexpected loss of a loved one.

Q. Who or What inspired you to write this book? I was told after the first draft of another book I wrote that I needed to step up the first chapter of my next book. In a huff, I started writing with the main character awaking with a dead body, turned out it was his wife. I thought, well if that's not early enough in the book, then I don't know what anyone wanting a mystery would want. Then came the hard part about how did she died. I saw a news item about a man falsely accused of murder, and it was his story that gave me final pieces to the mystery puzzle.

Q. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? I reviewed several multi-step programs about grief. While the mystery is at the heart of the story, how Bruce deals with his grief is the pulse for pushing the story forward.

On October 31st, my dear friends will be answering the questions about their fabulous novels. so for a treat, hop over and visit them...or, you can go visit them right now.

Ron Voigts
Amber Collen

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book Review: In Roswell Re-Abucted

Once again, I need to read the fine print. That's on me. In Roswell, Re-abducted is a short story or a long chapter in a book that's being serialized; it is not a novel. While the author has some nice plot twists in this little chapbook, the story is in desperate need of an editor. Way too many simple grammatical errors and story-telling issues for such a small story. There were a half-dozen missing or extraneous quotation marks, a he became a she, and it was difficult at times to follow the story due to some abrupt scene changes.

The author has some good dialogue and turn of phrases. The scene setting was okay, but it needed to be beefed-up so readers who haven't been to Roswell could feel like they are there. The author brought up some the kooky places in the town, but stopped short of bringing us fully into the Roswell world and allowing us to accept the off-beat nature of the story. Cobbled together with the rest of the chap-books, I could probably get behind the twisty story with odd-ball characters and growing mystery about Cinnamon's mother.

But without stronger editorial guidance, this story is just another example of why the traditional publishing industry chuckles at self-published authors. This chapbook is average with strengths and weaknesses that cancel each other out. It is a 3. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

MMWUC: The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

Friday night was horrible. Actually, it was more than horrible. It might be a self-published authors worst nightmare. My new novel (currently titled "Secrets") comes out in a few weeks, and this is what happened...

I'm watching cable television and the new Amazon Book Show on channel 832.3, showcasing new books every five minutes. Simple format: a 30-second snippet from the author, another thirty seconds with the host reading the back-of-book blurb followed by a one-minute excerpt from the book read by either a gravelly-voiced man or a sickly-sweet sounding woman. Finally, there is a two minute Midwest Book Review or Kirkus talking head, and then it's back to the host for a few seconds before the "word from our sponsor." There is a running ticker across the bottom the screen showing the last five books reviewed, and below it, the top five books for the past 24 hour and their sales. Below it, the Amazon Book Show Facebook page displays for everyone to go to and see all the reviewed books.

"Secrets" comes on as the featured book, but the author is some guy by the name of Sy Sakes.

"Damn, the other writers were right. The title is too common." I pound the arm of the couch. Startled, Sydney, my 20-y-o cockatiel, nips at me.

Sy says, "I wrote this during NANOWRIMO last year as my first novel." He looks at the camera with derision. "It was so easy, I didn't bother to edit it." He sighs as if he is bored. "It is the greatest book ever written." He yawns.

I scoff at his claim then laugh at his arrogance. Sydney cackles along with me. The host reads the back-of-book-blurb.

"Damn, that blurb is almost identical to mine. Don, Edith, and Peter were right. Mine was too generic. Just like this guy's blurb. Can I stomach to do it again?"

The book cover comes up onto the screen. I gasp. The gravelly-voiced man speaks:

Chapter 1

Terrified, I counted to six, and then begged Heather, "Just Breathe." I pinched her nose and covered her mouth with mine. Each time I did this, her cold lips almost made me retch from the reality of why I was doing this. I blew again. No response. My breath was returned without the hope with which I had sent it. Again.
“Please. I’ll be lost without you.” I counted while stroking her hair. Outside, the siren of an approaching ambulance pierced the pre-dawn quiet. The 9-1-1 operator kept calling my name over the phone I’d dropped onto the floor.
I blew again. “God, help me.” I rechecked her pulse. Nothing. I shook her and small items on the shelf tipped over from the force of my shaking. “Breathe, Heather, breathe.”
Desperate, I tried chest compressions on the sloshing waterbed, trying to recall first aid from Army basic training thirty years ago. “Stay calm. Think. Move her to the floor.”
Someone knocked on the front door I had left ajar. It squeaked open. “EMS,” a male voice said.
“In here, quick!” I yelled.
Two paramedics rushed from the foyer into the bedroom.
"Please. Help her."
“Come, sir.” The short paramedic pulled me away. I didn’t want to leave her, but they were the experts. He sat me at the bay window seat facing the foot of the bed. I was shaking.
A large, heavy-set man in a rumpled brown suit entered the room and stood barely inside the door frame. His walrus face was droopy and whiskered. Was he here to help?
The short paramedic waved his hand in front of my face to get my attention. “Sir, what’s your full name?”
“Bruce Wayne Neumanski.”
The heavy-set man by the door looked at me.
“And hers?”
“Heather Rachel Neumanski, my wife. Please, save her."
My eyes shifted focus to the tall paramedic bent over Heather, shining a penlight in her eyes.
"Well?" the man in the brown suit asked. His eyes were sloe-eyed, sleepy dull.
The short paramedic spun around and stepped towards him. “Detective Meeker. Where’d you come from?”
Meeker waved him off. “I was in the area and heard the emergency call.”
The tall paramedic leaned over to Meeker and spoke in a hushed manner. "No pulse. No respiration. Gray pallor, and cold. No blood or obvious wounds, but some petechial hemorrhaging in the eyes. I can’t declare her, but…."
Despite his whisper, I heard his words to Meeker.
“Oh God, it can’t be.” I folded my arms across my chest and rocked in place. “She was so full of life. She was my life.”
The paramedics looked at me. Meeker pushed through them and stared at Heather. His eyes widened. "Holy shit." He backed away, grabbing the tall paramedic by the shirt. "Bring her back!”
"But she's dead."
"Do it."

Gravelly Voice applauds this reading then salutes the author. I fall out of my chair in shock. Sydney attacks the television. "That's my book!" I scream

The reviewer comes on. "What can I say? This IS the greatest book ever written."

The host reappears. "Wow. It must be good. That is the shortest review we've ever had. And now a word from our sponsor."

I watch in horror. Some guy names Sy Sakes has stolen my novel and put it up on the Amazon Book Show claiming he wrote it. I'm freaking! The sales counter is going nuts. I never knew this show existed until now and was so popular. I'd only installed cable a week ago. In three minutes, over 100,000 orders have come in for the book. The counter is flipping over faster than the date clock on Rod Taylor's time machine in the classic movie "The Time Machine".

I dash to the computer in the office and go to the Facebook page. I can't get on. Too many people accessing it. I hear from the other room the host come back on the television.

"Due to the excitement over this book, we are rerunning the last segment again."

Obscenities fly out of my mouth like prayers from the Pope on Easter Sunday. Sydney squawks and runs for cover. I get on the site. The online tote board shows over 400,000 orders at $5.99 for the e-book and $21.99 for the paperback. "Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Oh, my God." I've heard about these book thieves before, but never thought it would happen to me. Somehow, somewhere, he got my book. One of my first readers, I'm thinking, must have been hacked. It can't be me. I'm too cautious.

Finally, I find the number for the Amazon Book Show (ABS). I call. "Do to the high volume of traffic for orders for "Secrets," there is a four hour delay to reach an operator." I don't hang up. I wait while I think what else I can do.

After an hour of online searching and digging and hacking, while still on hold for the ABS, I find Sy Sakes. There's a picture. It's him. The bastard only lives an hour away. Keeping the call to ABS alive on my cell phone, I hop into my car and drive to Lizard Lick, North Carolina. I find his house and rush up to the door.

"Sy answer the door," I shout.

He does.

I shoot that dirty egg-sucking dog down dead.

"Welcome to Amazon Book Services, how can I service you," is the last thing I remember from Friday night.

I'm out on bail now. It's eleven at night on Sunday. Over 24,001,046 books sold in 48 hours before they halted sales. Amazon efficiency has exported the money to an off-shore account already...$84 million. Sy's wife claimed no knowledge on Saturday at my hearing, but today, Sunday, she fled on a late afternoon flight to Belize according to the cops. Her attorney vows to continue the fight for the rights to the book. My lawyer says, despite all my drafts, reviews, critiques, and copies, it will be hard for me to prove the book is mine with Sy dead. "Hard to cross-examine a dead man."

Amazon bans me from their site forever. Barnes and Noble follows suit.

Lawyer says, "Should have changed the title when you were told to do so."
- - -
I awoke from the dream in a river of sweat a few moments ago and penned a new title for my upcoming November book release, "All of our Secrets"

Friday, October 19, 2012

Guest Blog: Book Trailers - Worth the Hype

Rhonda Kay sez--
Based on recent trends by small e-publishers as well as New York’s Big Six, book trailers are becoming the “must-have” accessory for all new releases. Even Amazon threw their hat in the ring last month by promoting a book trailer contest for a novel published by one of their new imprints. The idea is definitely out there, floating in the cosmos, that book trailers are the Next Big Thing in literary marketing and promotion.
But do they sell novels?
Novel Link
Trailer Link
Authors face some rocky terrain as publishing veers into a territory with no map and very few trail markers. The success of ebooks took everyone by surprise; most of us suspected it would happen—eventually—but no one guessed that climates in the publishing industry would shift so quickly.
Now, as both authors and readers, we’re struggling to make sense of the new paradigm. With the changes from traditional publishing to small press or independent electronic publishing, authors must think about marketing, distribution, promotion—a host of things we’ve never before had to face on our own.
Here’s the catch: a writer can pay for a very effective, professionally produced trailer, upload it to their favorite hosting site, wait, and see absolutely no boost in book sales.
The reason? Book trailers are not a magic bullet. They are one more tool in the arsenal of a motivated seller. They will do you no good at book signings, local fairs, or personal appearances unless you’re prepared to have the trailer playing in a loop on a nearby screen. You can’t put them in someone’s hand, autograph them as giveaways, or slip them between the pages of library books for the next reader to find.
However, what a trailer will do is draw the attention of a reader browsing the internet, trying to make a choice between your novel and another beside it on the screen. If your novel has an effective trailer and the other one doesn’t, I’m willing to bet the money lands in your account, not the other author’s. A well-done trailer offers a glimpse into the world of your novel, at the conflicts and the very faces of your characters. It can cause potential readers to become invested in your story long before they turn the first page.
Amazon Link
Scroll down to "Check
Out Related Media"
For authors who are already doing the legwork—making the most of social media and online networking—book trailers are a sure bet as a promotional tool. Trailers fit seamlessly into the cyberscape of most web pages, and by embedding links to them in everything from email to forum and Facebook posts, you can pique the interest of people who might otherwise never search for your novel’s blurb on Amazon. A book trailer alone cannot sell your novel. But a good trailer will work for you in ways no other form of media advertising can.

For example, Ania Ahlborn's novel Seed--you can see an embedded video, which is the live action book trailer. The producer of this trailer, Vikas Wadhwa, is a super nice guy who I hope will lead the charge in live-action book trailer production.
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Bio: Rhonda Kay is a writer and machinima director living in Southwest Virginia with her husband and a herd of animals. She has penned three novels, but the emerging market for book trailers has kept her too busy lately to even think of publishing anything. An active member of both the writing and machinima communities, she is a strong advocate for the use of 3D animation as a storytelling medium. She blogs here.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Book Review: Artful Dodging

I think I won this book in an online contest back in the summer. Though listed as a "mainstream mystery romance," there should be a nod to erotica for unsuspecting buyers. I'm not a prude. Nonetheless, I was surprised when this breezy little tale with a self-deprecating heroine, a drop-dead gorgeous leading man, and a clutch of mildly off-beat characters dipped into something else, and then dipped again, and again. If you like your sex spread out on the pages, you'll enjoy the intense love-making scenes.

Amazon Link
Artful Dodging is well written with an intriguing murder angle that occurred a bit too far into the story. Downside, I didn't believe completely the romantic rapport between Milo and Tristram other than two horny people who wanted to rock the town. In real life, he'd be in jail for a potential date rape the first time and kidnapping the third time they rode the bullet express into the dark tunnel. Kudos, though, to the author on not revealing their pasts at first opportunity. Lesser writers would have stopped the story upfront to lay out the back story. I enjoyed the reveals.

Sadly, there wasn't much tension with respect to the murder plot. The usual finger pointing of potential suspects was there, but I never had the sense that Milo was in any danger while she snooped until the climactic scene. The murder explanation by the murderer during the climax was a bit hard to swallow, and then we had to have the murder plot(s) explained away during eighteen additional pages after the climax and between more romantic dalliances. Oh, yeah. And what's with "Isis’s irritable sneezes and the occasional shaking of her feathers?" Isis is a cat! Haha. Without the strong writing, this would have been a three, but she scores better because of the writing. It's a low-range "4."

Monday, October 15, 2012

MMWUC: Fat Wallets and Young Dragons

Ten Dragons
What's in your wallet? $44, an old Hibachi China Buffet receipt, driver's license (with bad pic), picture of my sweetie at 17, and these cards: emergency medical identification, prescription drug, BC/BS, donor, American Airlines D2, choice privileges hotels, Sam's Club, AARP (yeah, baby, discounts I've earned), two library cards, Quail Ridge Books Readers' Club, membership to Mystery Writers of America, Supercuts (get 8; 1 free - last used 2010), and my credit card. Pretty boring, but I remember why. Big wallets in men's back pockets make for uneven derrieres and that can cause nerve damage. I need to slenderize mine. I pull out the MWA, one library, insurance cards. I can't remember the last time someone stopped me and asked if I belonged to the MWA. The one library card is for a different county. Used to stop there when I worked the census during breaks, and while waiting for elusive people to come home. My driver's insurance is in the car. Why carry another one. I ditched the receipt, but I love that place. I suppose I can dump the AA D2 card. No one asks for it any longer.

The Dragon's Call
Yes, a boring Monday Morning Wake-up Call, but, but, you've found the wallet on the ground. What story comes to your mind? How would you reconcile the older stuff (AARP card) with the picture of a young woman? Would you recognize this person as a writer, who despite a Supercuts card, has a bad haircut on the driver's license? Do you keep the money? Or, do you make efforts to get the entire wallet, intact, back to the owner because: (a) you remember how bad you felt when yours was lost and want a rewarding feeling, (b) you remember how bad you felt when yours was lost and need to make up for it with the case, (c) you're afraid you're in a sting, (d) you're germaphobic and now are flipping out, (e) you laugh and look around for cameras, or (xyz). You pick up the wallet, and snicker, thinking, "Loser..."

Flank Hawk
Before you can finish the thought, a dragon scoops you off the ground, you scream, drop the wallet. The dragon lands in a nearby 1,000 year-old oak tree and turns to the other juvenile dragons. "See. Easy pickings. I can smell and spot a loser from a mile away. Bon appetit."

Remember that the next time you're thinking about that wallet on the ground. Think good thoughts. My dragon friends will be watching and sniffing the air. They are magical, you know.
Tiny though I be, appetite large.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Guest Blog: Does Edith Parzefall Push Her Luck?

Research Break: Sleeping with the Policia Militar

Imagine you've spent months or rather years following Amnesty International reports, reading books, watching movies and documentaries about military police brutality in Brazil. You travel to Rio, the location of the thriller you're working on, Strays of Rio. You explore life in the favelas and roam the fashionable districts of Rio. Military police is ever-present, even on the Copacabana and Ipanema (Rick note: The song, The Girl from Ipanema, is now 50; the girl 68.) beaches. The sight of these well-armed men and women fills you with unease, but nobody else cares, so you stroll on.

Plates and Numbers
smudged on purpose
Then you hop over to the Iguacu Falls for a respite to enjoy nature in the full. You've booked a nice little hotel in advance, close to the main bus terminal. After admiring the Brazilian side of the stunning waterfalls, you return to the hotel and see a military police car parked in the driveway. You pause. It's getting dark and you're tired. Chin held up high, you turn into the driveway and spot two more vehicles. Deep breath. Your bags and travel documents are in your hotel room, and there are no bullets flying yet.

You enter and stare at a man in uniform, cleaning a large knife--rather a dagger really. He gazes up, frowns, and continues to make the blade shine. Then you notice the assault rifle leaning against the sofa he sits on.

For lack of a better idea, you proceed to the reception desk to pick up your key. As always, the lady smiles. From the opposite corner, two more military police officers dart you curious glances.

Edith in the Garden of Eden
You grab the key and escape down the corridor to your room, but all the doors stand ajar. A gaze to the right reveals a man in boxer shorts lying on his bed, a helmet by his feet and an assault rifle on the table. You hurry on past another open door revealing two more cops shedding their uniforms. Faster. Your room is at the end of the darn corridor. No more sideways glances! Quick. The lock resists for a moment but finally yields.

You'd planned to take a shower and then have a beer in the nice tropical garden behind the hotel. Among a bunch of ill-reputed armed guys? Maybe not such a good idea... 

Link to Amazon
The next morning, there's no sign of your infamous neighbors. You ask the receptionist what they were doing here. Smiling, she explains, "Oh, they are after drug dealers and weapon smugglers trying to cross the river from Paraguay. Nothing to worry about."

"Oh, okay." Then you remember the river and the border are only four blocks away... "Is it dangerous to walk around here?" you ask.

Smiling, she waves away your concerns. "No, not at all. Enjoy your stay."
- - -
Nope, I didn't dare to take photos of the armed or naked police officers, and fortunately, I wasn't alone during this adventure. Thanks Monika for playing bodyguard.
- - - 
Rick asks, "So, to what lengths do you go to research your stories?"

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Book Review: Short Story Week

The Mermaid Quilt & Other Tales

If you like mermaid tales (resisting all puns here), I've got a gentle book for you, The Mermaid Quilt and Other Tales by Beth Camp. Her slim collection of mermaid inspired tales and poems spans from the impoverished and steamy coast of Mexico to the cold to the unforgiving seas of the Arctic to the lyrical Scottish seaside. Even freshwater mermaids get the treatment during one of the more haunting tales, Rusalka, that embraces a hope for the future during an episode of a brutal purge of the Jews in Russia.

Amazon Link
I don't critique poetry, but the reader will find them tucked between the stories, enhancing the mood of mermaid lore, which has always seemed touching in a sad way. Our mysterious cousins of the deep seem destined to be kept at arms-length because, well, we'd drown in their environment without mystical aids as presented in The Tower and the Net or they'd be taken to a lab for dissection in our world. (Just ask Madison from Splash!) Yet, they seem, like in the title story, The Mermaid Quilt, to have a firm grasp of the power of empathetic healing for our hearts and apply their talents as best they can.

It's a nice, tidy, well-written book. For mermaid lovers, it's a must for your shelves. For those of us who prefer terra firma, with only the sound of the sea not the singing of mermaids to lull us to sleep, it is a top-shelf 4.

- - - 

Being accused of murder is bad enough, but having to rely on your estranged and abusive father for help is worse. However, that is Ben Hawkins' predicament in Linda Johnsons' chapbook, REDEMPTION: A Short Story. The twist is: Does dad's drastic solution to Ben's situation really become the stuff of redemption or start another cycle of bad decisions?

The well-written story is enjoyable if a bit short on digging into the complex process of redeeming oneself from past transgressions. The short story is a solid 4.

Monday, October 8, 2012

MMWUC: Lanky Blonde On Couch

Let's focus people. NANOWRIMO is coming in a few weeks. Get those pre-made meals stack in the freezer. Pay those bills ahead of time. Get an outline started. Catch up on your sleep. 50,000 words in one month is so easy for some; so hard for others; damn near impossible for about 80% of the writers who sign up.

My second published novel, A MATTER OF FAITH, was a NANO winner of 79,000 words. And even though I have failed to reach the magical heights of NANO success in recent years, it has certainly jump started several projects. And remember, sometimes you have to eject the crap out of your fingers before magical story lightning hits the keyboard.

So, are you participating? Are you prepared? Even if your answer is no, the only rule is: writers write! Set your own goal and keeping it going, even November, even as you chuckle about us slaves to the 1,667 word per day goal.

I'm cheating. Here's my opening.
I drained the beer then belched. I wasn't a pleasant sight, but I wasn't in the worst shape. The lanky blond was passed out on the couch, and I could see the redhead's feet, hanging off the end of my bed through the open door to my bedroom. They arrived drunk, got drunker, and I wasn't even sure I knew their names. The blond had a pink bra on that showed through her damp, white tee-shirt and jeans with beaded-thong sandals. Those beads must hurt. I think she played on the MU's women's volleyball team. She had to be about six feet tall. The cute redhead had on a jean skirt with a Hello Kitty pajama top. She was toned and probably an athlete also. She arrived barefoot and in much worse shape than the blond. I think they were freshmen, taking easy summer courses to remain eligible as sophomores.

"Debbie and Mandy," I said.

Ron snorted awake. He was reclined in the lazy-boy we took out of the trash bin a month ago. "What?"

"The names of the girls. I think." I wished he'd never entered my life.

Coach had draped his arm over my shoulder late last spring. "Take Ron in for summer school. Make sure he passes his courses. It's only twelve weeks. What can go wrong?"

The answer was plenty could go wrong. Cue balls have higher IQs than Ron, but he could run. So I kept him running. Two a day practices, weights, morning classes for which my air horn came in handy for getting him up. And then, I let him tag along with me to the radio station while he did homework. Being on the radio was a huge carrot for this dude.

"Girls?" He looked around the living room. His hair flopped over his eyes. He smiled, "Yeah, girls." He righted the chair and his smile crashed onto his chest with his chin. "Damn, I don't remember. When did they come? What time is it?"

"It's three o'clock. The crew has left. I'm hornier than hell, and there's two girls here that we haven't a chance with. Very frustrating." My girlfriend dumped me during the late shift on the radio over the air during an album request hour. Not cool. I could have any 14- or 15-year-old frustrated teenage girl in the tri-county area, but at twenty-six, I wasn't looking for jail time. It was bad enough when they hung out after hours.

"Does your mom know you're out here?" I've asked more than a few. "Oh, it's okay. She's out with her boyfriend. She won't say nothing to me, because then I'd tell daddy where she's been while he was out of town." Yeah, that's the ticket for me. A fifteen-year-old with the morals of an alley-cat with parental approval.

I'd only had four beers all night. I might have even been technically sober. And I was getting too old for this life. I was glad I had put off college for the army, because I probably would have been as young and stupid as these morons had I gone to college at eighteen. However, I needed to be moving on and glad that I only had one more semester left.

I pushed off my chair and headed for my bedroom. Ron peeled himself from the lazy boy and went to the john.

The redhead was face-down on the bed. I rolled her over to wake her up so she and her friend could sashay on back to wherever home was. I knew immediately she was dead.

Monday, October 1, 2012

MMWUC: On Vacation, Writing, and Cows

My question three weeks ago was: Can writers go on vacation?

My answer is: No. As long as there is a story in our mind or one that needs editing or an email reply, Facebook retort, Twitter wisecrack, LinkedIn comment to answer, the truth is, writer's love words and love sharing them. I don't believe a writer can go on vacation like a research scientist. True, the scientist can think about work, but I'm sure they don't take electron microscopes on vacation as easily as a writer takes a pad of paper and pencil as the minimal tool set.

Could you write here?
Thanks goodness for the lack of a vacation. Even cows standing in the fields inspire stories.

Cow stops chewing and asks, "We do?"

- - - BESSIE - - -

Bessie snorted. She cleared her massive air passages just as the crow landed on her back. She snorted again. Bessie mooed; the crow cawed. It was--

"Hello again. How are you?"

"Fine, thanks. Nice batch of yummy, fat flies hanging around you today."

The crow had been doing this since the middle of the hot time, when Bessie just didn't seem to want to eat any more like the other cows who grazed all day across the big pasture. She only moved when she needed to. She would eat at the corner of the old barn then waddle to the shade of the oak tree to rest and then tromp down to the watering hole. She repeated this six or seven times a day. She'd nibble on grass either side of the path she had created, tossed her feces as fertilizer for a new batch of sweet grass, and allowed her hooves to break the hard ground so that seeds could get a foothold. Every time she had her fill of water and left for the old, rickety barn, the crow would alight on her back. This happened all day long, except for milking time in the milking barn, a time she'd come to dread.

The first time the crow landed on her back, Bessie got scared. She bucked the crow off. The crow cawed several times. It was--

"How rude. What did I do? Just hungry. A bit tired. Your big; I'm small."

After two more times with the crow landing with a bit more warning beforehand, Bessie had accepted and even looked forward to the crow's scratchy massage of her back. Her tail couldn't reach some places to shoo away the flies any longer and a annoying itch remained from years ago when the man put a harness on her daily and made her walk in circles for hours, listening to the irritating sound of a grinding wheel. She hated the harness and despised the walks in the sweltering heat of the barn that had no air movement. She also hated the milk machine as it bled her dry and then some. He wanted every last drop of milk she could produce. Her teats hurt all the time.

So, the crow hitched a ride three to five times a day now, even as the weather cooled. Bessie didn't say much more than an occasional moo while the crow cawed incessantly. It was--

"See the hawk. Hate the hawk. Why'd the chicken cross the road? What's a road? Ha ha! No seriously, what's a road? Look Buzzards. Oh no! There's the man. Gotta go."

Bessie usually just mooed, "Uh huh." After arriving at her spot near the old, run-down barn, Bessie would head butt it, making some hay that was stored above fall down, and then wait for the mice to get some grain before she ate. Bessie hated mice; the crow was nice enough to pick them up and take them away, removing them from Bessie's sight. It had been much better since the crow had arrived.

Today though, she didn't like the fragrance wafting in the wind, but understood the nature of man and the season of cows disappearing into smelly building. She knew lack of milk production was an issue. She knew it was nearing her time to disappear into the smelly building. It was routine.

She stood there thinking that she had tried her best to keep up with expected fifty-five pounds of milk per day and dutifully walked into the barn morning, noon, and night for milking. It was routine. Cows like routine; she liked routine. However, she was getting on in years. Early in the summer, she could only muster about forty pounds per day. It didn't help that the man would slap her on the backside more often when she lagged behind with filling the tank. The slap on her leaner side just made her tense, and the flow would slow up. She leaked milk now on her path occasionally when the tension eased after milking. The man, more than once, said it was unacceptable. Now, she was lucky she could pump out twenty pounds even with the man encouraging her to try harder.

"Stupid cow. You cost too much to feed. You'll be a side before long." Another slap on the hind quarters. "Should have never allowed the kids to name you. But they're out of the house. Gone. What they don't know won't hurt them." He cackled and moved on to the next cow.

Bessie would try to explain. "Moo." The man wasn't interested in explanations. She'd ask, "Moo. What's a side?" He never answered her questions.

The crow alighted as usual after Bessie took a few mouthfuls of water. Her thirst wasn't what it used to be. She turned and headed back to the old dilapidated barn. The crow talked as usual. It was--

"Cold last night. Saw frost. Kids fledged this morning. Life is good. Did you catch the Packer game last night? What's a packer? Ha ha! You're moving slow today. Are you okay?"

They'd reached the barn; she head-butted it; mice scurried; the crow caught two. Amazing, Bessie thought.

Pop! The sound made Bessie flinch. Something dropped from the sky onto the crow. He dropped his mice. Bessie backed up a few feet. The man came running. The crow was flopping on the ground in a net. It was--

"What is this fresh hell? How do I get out? I don't like this. Where are my mice? Oh no! There's the man. Gotta go. Can't! What is this fresh hell?"

"Gotcha." The man exclaimed. "You black-devil, corn-stealing thief of a bird."

Bessie watched the man extract the crow from under the net. He put a bag over the crow's head. It didn't stop the crow from cursing the man and calling out a word of caution to the other crows gathering nearby not get too close to the man. It was--

"Save yourselves."

Bessie listened. She realized that the multiple voices from the gathering crows were his family: father and mother, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, and three of his kids, about twenty altogether, though Bessie wasn't very good at math. They were all screaming for the man to let the crow go. Bessie chewed her cud, confused. This is not the routine. The crow scratched the man several times, and before the man got the bag over the crow's head, the crow had bitten him twice. Feisty. Bessie had heard the man call the old gray mare that once. It fit this scene. The man carried the crow to the smelly building, and Bessie wondered if the crow was going to become a side. Whatever that was.

Later, the man came back outside. He had tied a dried corn cob with the husky tassel end hanging down to a small bit of twine. He had tied the other end to the crow's feet. Was the farmer giving the crows something to eat?

The farmer held up the crow, displaying him to the other crows who'd become silent. "Y'all get your noisy, crop stealing selves out of here or one by one I'll do the same to all of you. I know your routine."

The man pulled out a small stick. It was a special stick. Bessie had seen it before and didn't like it. The man used it to make fire for the other thing he put in his mouth, cigarette. Bessie was very much afraid of fire. She stomped the ground and backed up a few more feet. She was glad the other cows were out in the big field. Fire had made them run stupid in the past, and she didn't feel like running, but she didn't want to be near the other cows or the fire. It was hot, it hurt, it smelled, it made other things catch on fire. And then, there would be more fire, and the other cows would run. And she couldn't run fast any longer. She did not want to die in a stampede. That would be stupid.

Bessie looked on in horror. The man whipped the bag off the crow's head, and then lit the stick. The stick lit the husk on fire. "Here take this back to your nest." He let the crow go with the husk on fire. Flames licked up to the crow's behind. The crow flew. The farmer laughed. "Die. Ha ha! Burn, baby, burn." The crow screamed his caws. The other crows screamed back. "What do we do? What do we do?" The crow could barely fly, but he rose, flames tickling his tail feathers. The effort was difficult. He screamed his caw. It was--

"It hurts! It hurts! Damn, it hurts!"

He went to the farmer's house and barely made it to the roof. The farmer stopped laughing. He ran at the crow. "Get the hell off my roof." He picked up a rock and threw it at the crow. The crow obliged and started flying again. He was screaming louder and more often. The other crows were screaming. Bessie was mooing, shedding great big tears to the ground, because she knew this was wrong on so many levels, but didn't understand why.

The exhausted crow paused on the smelly building before the farmer threw rocks at him again. He flew off the smelly building after a small rock nicked him. The farmer turned to his house. The burning husk of the cob had caught the roof on fire. The man ran to the hose. The crow landed on the milking barn with a thud. He cawed. It was-

"Help me. Help me."

Bessie mooed. The crow glided down to Bessie, plopping on the ground in front of her. The first of the crow's long tail feathers had caught fire, the singed smell was repugnant to Bessie. She stepped forward and sniffed the crow. Smoked filled her nose. The fire flickered at her snout. She snorted, and for a moment, the fire retreated. Bessie snorted again with all her might, and despite the pain of the fire brushing up against her cheek, she chewed through the twine, and brushed the freed crow away from the flaming cob. The crow had just enough energy to flap up onto her back. With crow aboard, digging his claws into her hide, she rain to the water hole with the memory of being a calf, running endlessly against the wind and flopping without a care into the water arose. Long forgotten feelings erupted: freedom, happiness, and joy.

She barreled into the cool water. The crow fell in with her. She stuck her whole head under the water.

When she pulled her head out of the water, the pain was still there, but not as intense. The crow, with wings outstretched, floated on the surface like a strange duck. He cawed in relief; she mooed a laugh. Ducks always made her laugh. The other crows had gathered around and were all cawing so loud and at the same time that Bessie couldn't understand what they were saying. The crow farted in the water; all the crows laughed their caws.

A scream erupted behind her, and Bessie turned around to see the milking barn glowing bright yellow and red from the flames. Smoke filled the air. The man was spraying his hose everywhere, but all the buildings were burning, except the dilapidated barn where the Bessie's hay was stored.

Hours later, Bessie sat under the oak tree, exhausted. The crow sat on her back, still and quiet. The rest of the crow family had gone back to their nests. Many other men had come and gone. The house, the smelly building, and the barn were black, smoldering heaps on the ground. Bessie's barn mates had been moved on to other fields or barns. It was routine. They had to be milked. Bessie would sleep under the oak tree tonight. The man in the white coat felt that was best.

"Take some time to rest old gal," he had said.

Some milk had squeezed out of Bessie when she lay down, a bunch of mice and a barn cat from the milking barn had called a truce and lapped up the milk. The spillage was enough to make Bessie feel comfortable. The man in the white coat had gently rubbed something on her snout and cheek earlier. It had made her face feel better, and she had allowed the crow to wipe the tips of his burnt tail feathers in greasy ointment. It seemed to make him happy.

The light was fading; the wind had changed direction and a gentle cool breeze replaced the acrid smell. A big moon rose in the sky. She hoped she'd have the dream where she jumped the moon. It was such a pleasant dream. In the dream she was weightless and without a care.

Bessie's Dream
Over by the milking barn, the man was sobbing. Bessie felt sorry for him. A man in blue stood next to him, writing something down on a piece of paper. "Just how much corn could that crow have been stealing?" The man shrugged his shoulder, shook his head, and sobbed harder.

The crow cawed once: It was--

"Thanks." He bent his head backwards into his folded wings.

Bessie sighed a deep long moo. She thought about the weird day. She was so tired. More tired than she'd ever been. The man's actions hadn't been part of the routine, and she wondered what it all meant, but Bessie didn't have deep thoughts. She was just a cow and glad the fire hadn't done any real damage. The other cows were milked and safe; the crow lived; the man was still there to fix the routine. She chewed her cud a few times, snorted, then went to sleep for the last time.

- - - THE END - - -

Coming 11/1/12, a new novel by Rick Bylina - SECRETS - How do you move on when you wife dies and you're accused of doing it?