Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Make a Decision--Stay out of Jail

Most young people who are jailed wound up in trouble with the law because they failed to make a decision.

They just went along with the decisions others made—others who made decisions to rob filling stations or beat up on that person they thought dised them. Not sure if that statistic still applies, since it was quoted in the ‘70s, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

One of the things I did in my checkered educational career was tape textbooks for blind students at the local community college, and it came from a social work text that belonged to a young man who was planning to counsel prisoners.

That text and this week’s prompt, added to a comment Hubby made on the way home from Panera (my favorite place for breakfast) on Monday, made me think about decision-making. It’s one of the most fundamental acts we have to learn to do—and do well—before we enter the adult world, yet nowhere are we taught how to do it. Possibly for that reason, many of the people I know whose lives are less than satisfactory have made a series of perhaps not bad, but not really good, decisions. I remember reading a magazine article once when I was a teen that suggested making a list of the good things and another of the bad things about any particular action we were considering. It helped, but it wasn’t enough. For one thing, it didn’t take into consideration others who would be affected by the decision.

The particular book I taped used a decision-making paradigm that consisted of concentric circles. In the “bull’s-eye” was the decision maker, the person who would be most affected by the result.

In the next circle, the decision makers put the names of those who would experience secondary effects from their decision: wives, children, parents….  In the third circle went the names of those who would suffer tertiary effects: close friends, co-workers… .THEN they made their columns, a pro column and a con column for each person.

No longer can you come to a decision because it makes you feel good. Now you have to think about all those who might suffer—or benefit—from your actions, and in what ways they might suffer or benefit. You might even be inspired to talk to them about it.

I think this paradigm is a much better approach to decision-making than any other I’m acquainted with, even though that’s all I can remember about it. It’s relatively simple, but forces the decision-makers to realize their actions have a ripple effect on their world and what those effects might be—unlike the old two-column method. 

Do schools now teach decision-making? What kind of paradigm do they use?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Full moon,
Snared in bare limbs
Of cold trees,
Breaks free
On drift
Of mist.

*Th challenge on GBE2 this week was to write something using only words of one syllable.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Why Do I Even Have a Kitchen?

I once saw a sign in a catalog that said, “I have a kitchen only because the house came with one.” Except for the occasional holiday, that pretty well describes me. If I didn’t like eating so much, I’d give up cooking.

I’ve actually considered that. My house is maybe two blocks from a mall and a major highway. Six restaurants are within easy walking distance and another eight are a reasonable hike. A short drive takes me to so many more I can’t even count them. I can buy sandwiches, Chinese food, Mexican food, seafood, southern cooking, pizza, Japanese food… It just goes on and on. And the prices are reasonable. I could actually eat restaurant food more cheaply than I can cook at home if I made good use of doggy bags.

However, I can’t get a wide variety of low calorie, low salt meals in a restaurant. So I have to use my kitchen—albeit minimally.

But my kitchen is much like the rest of my house—straight out of the ‘70s., closed in and dark with harvest gold counter tops. Only two changes have been made to the original design—the former owners painted the oak cabinets white, and I had sheet vinyl installed that looks so much like distressed pine that a visiting carpenter had to bend down and feel to make sure it wasn’t wood. It really made the white cabinets pop.

My dream is to bring the kitchen into the 21st century. I have plans that include ripping out a cupboard so I can have room for a larger fridge (the old one is very small and was in the house when we moved in 15 years ago) and ripping out the wall between the kitchen and dining room to let in light from the glass deck doors.

I don’t know how many more years Hubby and I will be able to climb the stairs to the top floor of the bi-level, but for now the stairs provide exercise we both need, even if I breathe a little hard when I get to the top. In the meantime, I hope to make a home that meets our needs with beauty and character. And I hope to leave it someday a little better than it was when we moved in.

Monday, November 19, 2012

How Does a Werewolf Spend the Holidays?

A little holiday gift for my blogger friends who might not have read my novel, "When the Moon Is Gibbous and Waxing," yet:

Natalie hadn't realized how close the holidays were until Bobbie invited her to go home with her for Thanksgiving. She declined, but started to think about Christmas. She was saddened to realize that her Christmas list had only three entries: Bobbie, Mildred and Henry, and Dr. Persky and his wife. By the time she decided what to get each of them, the ink had started to run in the tears that kept falling on the paper. Christmas must be the worst time of year when you've lost someone. She thought of a dozen things she'd like to get Grammy, but Grammy wasn't going to be here this Christmas or any Christmas for the rest of Natalie's life.
When Natalie dropped off Dr. and Mrs. Persky's gift about a week before Christmas, they invited her to spend Christmas with them. “My sister has children just your age,” said Mrs. Persky, “and I know she'd love to have you.”
Natalie had turned down an invitation from Bobbie, and she turned this one down also. Her mood, she feared, would just ruin the holidays for anyone around her. She mailed a package to Mildred and Henry, then went home and sat alone in her apartment listening to the silence. Most of the other tenants had gone to visit family and friends. Even traffic sounds had diminished, since most of the people living in this area were students. She tried to study, but couldn't concentrate. Why am I so restless? “Because you're lonely, you idiot,” she said aloud. “See, you're even talking to yourself.” Finally she threw her books aside, “Oh, the hell with it.”
She went into the bedroom and got the metal box out from under the bed. Taking it into the living room, she dumped it in the middle of the floor. Then she put all the birth certificates, marriage licenses, and other legal papers together in one stack and the letters in another. She arranged the letters from earliest to latest postmarks and started to read.  
Most of the letters were chit-chat: births, deaths, marriages. Some of them sounded as if they were written in a kind of code, as if the writer feared someone besides Grammy was reading them, and occasionally it sounded as if one was missing. Not unlikely, coming out of Russia back then. Finally Natalie came to a letter not more than ten years old that seemed more than a little strange.

It is good that you raise your granddaughter so carefully, but I beg you, tell her soon of the Family. If she should come into the Inheritance without understanding what is happening, it could be very dangerous for her, you know this. She must be taught soon how to control its comings and goings so she can protect herself.
As for the questions you now ask, even I do not know much of these matters. I must recommend that you write to another cousin who is a Keeper of the Family. I regret that she does not know English, but she does know German, and I recall that you know that language also.

There followed an explanation of how to get in touch with the cousin who was Keeper of the Family. The whole thing about the Family and the Inheritance struck Natalie as melodramatic, but the letter that now interested Natalie was the thick envelope that came from the named cousin. It was, indeed, written in German, and while Grammy's German had been quite good, Natalie's was barely adequate. She went to her bookcase and found the German-English dictionary left from her undergraduate courses and started the struggle.

                 Ilona has written to me of your problem and your interest in the history of the Family. I first must say that I agree with her that you must soon tell your granddaughter of the Family lest she by accident discover the Inheritance. You have had good luck that it has not happened already. It is very important that she understand what she is. Beware especially the full moon.
How the Family came into the Inheritance is hidden in time. I heard different tales from different Keepers when I was young. Some say it just happened. Others say we have been here since the beginning of time. One story is that long ago our ancestor lived in Persia, where he angered an ancient king. The king ordered a witch to curse him and all his descendants. He fled into the savage lands to the north, but at the next full moon the curse afflicted him. Still, he married, some say to the daughter of the king who was the cause of the curse, and had many children, and for years it seemed that was the end of it. But when cousins married, several of their children inherited the curse. Many bands of marauders roamed that area then, but seldom did one attack their villages because of the stories of what happened to those who molested the villagers.
They say that for a long time the Family was feared but respected. Then, as Christianity spread across Europe, some called us Children of Satan, and many of us died at the hands of priests. There is another story about two young men of the Family in those times...

Natalie stood up and stretched. She was surprised to discover that she had been working for two hours. The hard work of translating was more than offset by the strange story that was unfolding. A curse that worked like a recessive gene, an Inheritance that helped the Family protect their neighbors, then was turned against them. Children of Satan. Well, people who had epilepsy used to be thought of as possessed by demons. Natalie picked the letter back up and continued.

Nikolai and Alexei were members of the Family who had the Inheritance. They were raised on neighboring farms and were very close. When they were youths and had just come into the Inheritance, they ran together in the forests near their homes. As young men, Nikolai married a young woman of the Family who did not have the Inheritance, Alexei fell in love with one of the village girls, and she loved him in return though she knew what he was.
Then one night Alexei was running alone and was seen by a farmer who was a follower of the priests. The farmer made the mistake of attacking Alexei with his scythe. In defending himself, Alexei killed the farmer. Alexei was heartsick. This was proof, he thought, that he was, indeed, a Child of Satan as the priests said. If his soul had not been lost when he was born or the first time he changed, it most certainly was lost now. He could not take his own life, so he decided that the only way to atone for his sin was to spend the rest of his life in a nearby monastery. The monks there were as much of the old religion as the new, and they would protect him. He said good-bye to his beloved Katerina.
But when he went to say good-bye to Nikolai, his boyhood companion told him he was a fool, that he had only been protecting himself. “Katerina's father will give her to some rich, old farmer and she will spend her life bearing children for a man she does not love.” He told Alexei that his newborn son had been born early and with hair on his body and that he would raise him to be proud of the Inheritance. And he said, “We are as much creations of God as mankind is. But if the priests will not let us serve God, I and my family will surely serve Satan.”
The legend says that Alexei spent the rest of his life in the monastery and lived to be very old. Katerina was given to a rich farmer and bore many children. She was a dutiful wife and a good mother, but very sad, especially when there was a full moon. Nikolai and his wife had many children also, but because of his pride, he let himself be seen one night by a priest, who gathered the villagers and hunted him and his son and killed them and burned their bodies. Then they gathered the rest of the family and burned them. As the flames caught around her skirts, the oldest daughter cursed them in the names of God and Satan. Within a year, the plague swept across Europe and everyone in the village died.

Natalie put down the letter. Gooseflesh played up and down her arms. She had been born early and covered with hair. She remembered Grammy saying that. Natalie had thought nothing of it because premature babies are sometimes born fuzzy. The hair falls off in a few weeks. But this Inheritance was serious enough to have gotten an entire family murdered by fear-crazed villagers. What could it be? Whatever it was made Alexei powerful enough to kill a man who was armed with a scythe and the villagers frightened enough to burn women and children at the stake. Alexei thought his soul might have been lost the first time he changed. They talked about the villagers as mankind, as if they were something different. And at the beginning of the letter, the Keeper had said, “Beware especially the full moon.”
Natalie suppressed a giggle. No, it couldn't be what she was thinking. That was a silly story to frighten children, not something a modern young woman would even consider. This “Family” had played a cruel joke on Grammy. In anger, she swept the papers and letters up and threw them into the box. But as she did, a paper folded in a small square dropped out of them onto the floor. Natalie stared at it. On the outside was written “by Ursula Kisel.” Natalie's hands trembled as she picked it up. It was old and fragile, and she unfolded it carefully to discover a short poem written in a small, neat hand:

The midnight moon, icy white,
Rides the clouds across the night.
Its leering face is full tonight
Above a world misty bright.

The whimpering wind is damp and cold,
Laden with stench of leafy mold.
Brown leaves race across the stone,
Chased by demons of their own.

In those of us who bear the curse,
Again awakes the ancient thirst.
The changing swells within our breasts
As, howling, were-men turn to beasts.

            In a kind of collage, the events of the last couple of months flashed through her mind, and she remembered. She remembered climbing out the window at Grammy’s house and running under the full moon, and she remembered leaving the lab that first night under the full moon. She remembered the two men stalking her across the parking lot, reaching for her as she shook with terror, and her satisfied rage as she turned and attacked. And she knew what the figure beside her name meant.
              Natalie rose weakly and stumbled to her desk. Somewhere, she remembered, she had a calendar that showed the phases of the moon. She dumped the desk drawer onto the floor.
The calendar wasn't there. She started emptying the bookshelves, casting the books onto the sofa, the coffee table, the floor. Finally she found it and flipped through the pages until she found December and the next full moon. It would be tomorrow night.

Available for Kindle at http://tinyurl.com/886lsrv 
and for Nook at http://tinyurl.com/7zn72bz

Saturday, November 17, 2012

My Love Affair with Numbers--Not

If Sherry, an employee in the closely held corporation I worked for before I went to work for the giant, international corporation, saw the license plate on your car once, she knew it forever. She was also one of the fastest typists I’ve known—easily exceeding 100 words a minute. I don’t think there was a connection.

I, by comparison, can’t even remember my own license plate—or telephone number—or even address—unless I come up with a memory hook of some kind. Sometimes it’s as simple as putting numbers together. I can’t remember my address as 2-1-3-6, but I can remember it as 21-36. I remember my cell phone number the same way.

But the landline that Hubby and I had installed BCF (Before Cell Fones) practically had to be tattooed onto the back of my hand. Finally Hubby said, “Look. There’s an 8. That looks like an interstate cloverleaf. Then the interstate that runs through town. Then the state route where I grew up, followed by another cloverleaf.” Haven’t forgotten it since. But I have to go through the entire litany every time I fill out paperwork.

So you can imagine my utter joy when Illinois started offering “vanity” license plates. For me it isn’t a vanity to select my plate—it’s a necessity if I plan to ever remember it.

I ordered my first one about the time I finished the first draft of When the Moon Is Gibbous and Waxing. I'll never forget it. It didn't have one number in it.

It was WERWOLF. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Beginnings: "Call Me Ishmael"--Or Maybe Not

When you get to be my age, you’ve had so many beginnings and endings that you lose count. So far, at least, a beginning has followed every ending—and I have faith that will always be the case. But the sheer number of beginnings is a bit overwhelming.

And that’s my excuse for being late with this blog. I couldn’t decide which beginning to write about.  So I just decided to write about beginnings of novels.

When I first started studying fiction writing, I was told, “If you don’t capture your reader in the first three chapters, you’ll never capture them.” 

Have you stopped laughing? Yeah. The last thing I read said a writer has one sentence.  ONE SENTENCE!  “Call me Ismael,” isn’t going to cut it any more. On the other hand, I think one of my favorite authors got it right. Thank Jim Butcher for, “The building was on fire and this time it wasn’t my fault.” (Quoted from memory, so don't blame me if it isn't exact.)

How do my own first sentences stand up to that? Not so well. Which might explain why I’m not a best selling author. The first sentence of my published novel, When the Moon Is Gibbous and Waxing, is, “When Natalie recorded the final reading for the blood she had drawn from her guinea pigs that afternoon and looked up from her meticulous notes, she realized how quiet the lab was.” Not very exciting. But you do learn a lot from that one sentence: the name of the protagonist, her job, the approximate time of day, and something about her personality. And trust me, by the end of the opening scene, you get all the excitement you need.

Looking through my works in progress, I see that’s my pattern—I begin quietly, giving the reader several paragraphs to get to know the protagonist, then finish the first scene with a bang. But in the sequel to Gibbous Moon, I break one of the cardinal rules of fiction writing—I don’t even begin with the protagonists. Then I kill off one of the characters I do start with. In the second chapter, I kill off the other one. (Can we, like, call that a prologue maybe? No? OK, then just live with it--no pun intended. That’s how it has to be.)

Book three—or it might be book four—in the series actually does begin with a prologue, which we are told is simply not allowed. But when I presented the first chapter to my critique group, they demanded it. Once it was written, I agreed with them, although it means the book follows the pattern I’ve established. I do like the first sentence of the official Chapter One, though:

“In the genetic crapshoot that preceded David’s conception, something had gone very wrong.”

Does that beginning get your attention?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

I'm a Fairy Tale Princess

My bathroom is avocado green. There. I’ve said it. And, shameful as it is, it’s all true. But hear me out.

When we moved into this 1970s house, the fixtures in the guest bathroom, which I claimed as my own, were avocado green, and the walls were covered with cream, pink, and green wallpaper in very narrow stripes and topped with a  border that looked like a Monet painting. One day I was walking through Wal-mart, a place where I spend as little time as possible, and saw a shower curtain with exactly the same look. I almost didn’t pick it up because the shower already had beautiful glass doors. But I did, and I hung it up over the glass door. It was perfect. A few months later, I talked Hubby into removing the shower door. That’s where it started—a Monet’s garden look for my bathroom.

A few years later, I covered the tile floor with new vinyl that looks like green Italian slate. I put a swag of silk flowers over the mirror. I found a cute bunny statue to peek out from behind the basket of silk vines I put on the floor. At an art fair, I found two watercolors by a local artist that also fit into the Monet theme. Yeah, I know. It sounds just too, too precious. But I like it. And because Hubby and I don’t share a bathroom (much as I love him, he’s kind of a slob), it’s one of the few rooms in the house I can have pretty much the way I want it.

When my mother died, I inherited the silver tea service my sister and I bought our parents for their 25th anniversary. Now I understand the look of dismay on her face when she opened the gift. It’s impossible to keep shiny, and nobody in her—or my—mostly bluecollar world has tea parties anyway. When I want a cup of tea, I stick a mug in the microwave. But I kind of like the patina on old silver. So I put a bunch of silk flowers in the teapot and sat it on the back of the toilet. (Who says a toilet can’t be pretty?) The sugar bowl and creamer hold plenty of cotton balls.

As a corporate employee, I had to be calm and decisive. As an author, I write about cops and werewolves. In my bathroom I can be all girly. I can have perfumes lined up on the vanity and a drawer full of makeup. I can be the fairy tale princess. OK, the fairy tale dowager queen, then. No jokes about thrones…

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Cobwebs in my Brain--and a Poem

Cobwebs are nearly a feature of the decor in my house. I hate cleaning, and my theory is that as long as the spiders stay up there and catch flies, we can coexist. But this morning I woke up with cobwebs in my brain. 

Not the kind made by spiders, of course, but the kind made by staying up too late and getting up too early--plus taking a couple of medications that say, "Do not operate heavy machinery while taking this medication." 

Which brings up a question: Just what qualifies as heavy machinery? Heavy is pretty subjective, don't you think? I assume I'm allowed to use my blender and not allowed to drive an end loader. But in between lies a vast category of machinery that's "a little bit heavy" or "almost heavy" or "heavy, but not quite heavy enough to prevent the taking of medications." What about my car? Is it heavy machinery?

This morning I opted to let Hubby drive to church--that's how cobwebby my brain was. I also opted not to volunteer to run one of the television cameras--a job I sometimes do because everyone else is too busy or too lazy or too intimidated to tackle it. (It isn't that difficult if you have more than four hours of sleep. A college class in studio production helps, too.)

A long afternoon nap cleared the cobwebs out of my head. Wish I could clear the cobwebs out of my house that pleasantly.

On a more serious note, I'm sure I've used this here before, but with the prompt for this week being "cobwebs," I couldn't resist. Besides, it's one of my favorites of the poems I've written.


Is like the silken touch of cobweb
Against the cheek,
And often just as absently
Brushed away.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

RITE OF PASSAGE--In Retrospect

That fateful day, I became a senior citizen.

No, I didn’t turn 62—or even 55. That came later. The change, while unofficial, was much more fundamentally significant than mere age.

I bought a luxury car.

Yes, it’s true. No longer would you see that gumball red sports car zipping around town, careening around corners, leaping away from stop signs at the head of the pack as I plotted the next chapter of my novel.

At the height of my mid-life crisis, after I’d cast aside the practical economy cars of my youth, I was often heard telling people I’d drive a sports car until I couldn’t find room in it for my wheel chair. But I failed to consider that irresistible and inevitable force brought to bear on those of us of a certain age and familial persuasion. I became a grandmother.

At first it wasn’t so bad. An infant seat could be wedged into the anatomically shaped, albeit nearly nonexistent, back seat of the turbo-charged, five-on-the-floor bomb, and an infant needs almost no legroom.

True, when I wanted to take my husband and daughter along on my outings with the grandbaby, one of them had to more-or-less curl up into a ball to fit into the other back seat. But it was only for short distances. They could handle it.

But babies grow. And this one grew and grew, until, at age six, she could barely walk under my outstretched arm. My back seat still had enough room for her lanky legs as long as I didn’t have to move the driver’s seat to get in and out. But I could see my fate staring me in the face from a year or two in the future. I couldn’t let my granddaughter be uncomfortable, no matter how short the trip.

Then fell the final blow. She became a big sister.

Talk about fate staring me in the face. The little guy was built like a fullback from day one. And now we had to use two cars for a family outing. The logistics were beginning to get unwieldy. I had to give up and admit I needed the dreaded “nana-mobile.”

I set out on a search to find something of adequate size that wasn’t too much of an affront to my self image, firmly believing no such thing existed. I must have looked at every van, mini-van, SUV, and sedan in town before I heaved a heavy sign, patted the hood of my sports car, and bid it a fond farewell. I had selected a sleek, black two-door with room in the back seat for three adults abreast. My grandchildren would be comfortable even after they outgrew me (by the time they were 10 years old).

What sold me on that particular car? Well, it wasn’t really the prestigious maker and model. It wasn’t really the roominess or living room comfort. It wasn’t even really the somewhat ominous look of it.

I think it might have been a comment the salesman, unaware that I’m a writer of horror/mystery novels, made while showing me how spacious the car was.

“Wow,” he said. “I wonder how many bodies you could stuff into that trunk.”

note: The granddaughter in the essay now drives her own car. The grandson is looking forward to driver's training later this year. Theoretically, Hubby and I could be back into a sports car in less than three years, provided the crack about the wheelchair remains only a joke. That'll be another rite of passage--into second childhood. : - ) We'll see...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Finality of Peace

The more I thought about the prompt for this week, the more I realized that peace is really pretty fleeting.

And it should be. Too much is left to do, to see, to learn, for any of us to find peace while we're still able to draw breath. Only in death should we find peace.

And that made me think about cemeteries.

I took these photos in Scotland a couple of years ago. The gravestones there are a metaphor for the triumph of life over death, because they're covered with lichens and mosses growing right on the dead stone.
 Maeshowe on Orkney might or might not have been a grave. All that's known for sure is that it's very old and that on the equinoxes, the sun shines right in through that door you see and strikes the center of the back wall. (We were there for the autumnal equinox.) A legend says that a group of Norsemen once took shelter here during a storm and that two of them went insane before they were able to leave.
I entered by bending at the waist to walk through a tunnel, then, when I reached the open part under the dome, turned around and walked right back out. Did not like the way it felt. (This was before I heard the legend.)

The graves at Beauly Abby, like many in Europe, were in the floor of the church. I was taught as a child not to walk on graves and it's still difficult for me. Yet the people who attended services here obviously had no problem with it.
Balnuaran of Clava was pretty definitely a grave, and very, very old. The feeling of peace here was amazing. Perhaps the stone-age souls buried here have really found their rest.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Snapshots in My Memory

It used to be a photographer’s worst nightmare, back before everyone carried a cell phone and every cell phone included a camera. That perfect, once-in-a-lifetime picture looms before you—and you’ve left your camera at home.

The first time this happened to me, I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old. My parents had given me their old Brownie box camera (Anyone else remember these?), and I’d taken some pictures I’m proud of to this day. But this particular day my camera was sitting at home on a shelf.

The spring had been, not unlike most Illinois springs, rather erratic, with cold temperatures giving way to warm temperatures in early March, then reverting to cold temperatures and snow flurries later in the month. As I was walking home from school, I passed an ancient tree with gnarled roots radiating in all directions. The wind suddenly picked up and whirled a mix of snow and brown leaves out from between two of them to reveal, hidden among the remaining leaves and snow, a small clump of violets in bloom.

I could do nothing but try to remember it—like a snapshot in my memory.

Several years later, I was in a car with my parents, riding through the countryside between Flora and Olney in Southern Illinois, and there was the perfect sliver of a moon high in the sky long before sunset, like a fleck of gold floating in a turquoise eye—a snapshot in my memory.

Nearly grown, I was on horseback in the Fox River bottoms near Olney. It’s a wild area. Parts of it look like humankind has never walked there. But most of it is laced with trails like the one I rode this warm autumn day, and small pockets of crops are planted in open places to take advantage of the rich, loamy soil. I was riding past one of these when a red-winged blackbird glided down onto a full, golden head of wheat and balanced there, wings outstretched, for long seconds—a snapshot in my memory.

When I was a young mother living in the Kiamichi Mountains of Southeastern Oklahoma, I woke one night to find my bedroom glowing with silvery light. I rolled over and peeked out the window to find a full moon high in a sky covered with puffy clouds that looked like lily pads. They were reflecting the moon’s light so completely that the dirt road leading to our house looked like a stream of molten silver—a snapshot in my memory.

I was visiting my sister on the plains of Nebraska one summer when her husband called from the airbase to tell us to go to shelter because a severe storm was on the way. As we left her mobile home, I looked across the prairie to see a perfect anvil-shaped cloud preceding the storm front, grumbling thunder and dropping bolts of lightning as it approached—a snapshot in my memory.

My kids grew up in a little town south of Champaign, Illinois. I used to take evening walks past a small, picturesque grove. One evening, mist curled around the trunks of the trees and the air was filled with fireflies. Crouched in the mist, surrounded by fireflies, was a wild rabbit—still as death and poised to flee—a snapshot in my memory.

I’ve seen double and triple rainbows—even an upside-down rainbow once. I didn’t have my camera. I’ve seen sundogs and “the new moon hanging from a star,” and I didn’t have my camera. I’ve seen comets that swept the sky—one with a double tail—and I didn’t have my camera. I’ve seen brilliant sunsets, fiery dawns, bursts of lightning in pink and green that came down from the clouds and up from the earth and met in the middle—and I didn’t have my camera.

All just snapshots in my memory--until now. Now you have those snapshots, too.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Meg Meets the Shapeshifter

Meg checked the nearly hidden table in the corner by the fireplace as she walked into her favorite coffee shop. He was there—again. A little shiver shot up her spine.
She had no idea why he evoked such uneasiness in her. He didn’t look as bad as most of the homeless men she saw roaming the streets. But they weren’t here, in the upscale coffee shop where she went on her coffee break. He was. Every day.
She knew nothing about him except that he must have a lot of time on his hands. He was big—both tall and heavy—with a round face and vacant eyes that made her wonder what drug he was on. He always wore a huge, dingy white T-shirt over jeans that were frayed from dragging the floor. He looked unwashed. His short hair somehow managed to look uncombed, and he always needed a shave.
And he watched her. Maybe that was why he seemed so creepy. Men didn’t usually watch Meg like that. Not that she was unattractive. She was just so horribly average that most men slid their gazes right over her while searching for the next flashy, half-dressed babe. But she’d felt his eyes on her often and turned to catch him as he averted his gaze. Yeah. He was just creepy.
Meg stepped up to the counter and ordered her cinnamon bagel and espresso. She had just dropped her change into her purse and picked up the bag and cup when someone plowed into her from behind. The cup flew out of her hand, coffee splashing back, burning down the front of her wool jacket as she heard her attacker shout, “Get down on the floor, bitch! You! Behind the counter! Hands where I can see them!”
As she crashed against the counter wildly grasping for the edge to keep from falling, something big shot from near the fireplace—so fast it was nearly a blur. Meg heard two shots, then nothing but the ringing in her ears, and looked down to see a tall, well-muscled man, one knee in the back of the gunman, slapping handcuffs onto his wrists. The gun lay on the floor nearby.
Her rescuer looked up at her, concern in his dark eyes. “Are you OK? Hey, Pete, get her some cold water. That coffee probably burns.” His oval face sported a sexy hint of beard, and his short hair was slightly unruly with curls. He was wearing a white T-shirt and jeans… Oh my God! It was Creepy Guy. What the hell?
Point sat quietly at the nearly hidden table beside the fireplace, trying to be invisible. An upscale coffee shop hardly seemed like the kind of business that would need his brand of security service, but this one had somehow wound up in the crosshairs of a gang takeover. He didn’t let the fact that he’d been sitting here waiting for weeks for them to follow up on their threats make him any less vigilant. He’d done too many of these jobs to fall into that trap.
And this job had a rare benefit. Every morning at 10 a.m., Monday through Friday, Classy Lady came in to pick up a bagel and a cup of coffee. He was trying again to guess in which of the many nearby skyscrapers she might work when she came for this morning’s cuppa.
She appeared to be searching for someone, then looked uneasy when she saw him in his usual place. Whoever she looked for every morning never seemed to show up. He was used to seeing that uneasiness in women, though. He had no idea why. He was one of the good guys.
He watched her surreptitiously while she waited for her order to be bagged. She was wearing a sky blue suit of lightweight wool, the skirt reaching just below the knee. As she entered, he’d seen the white blouse under the jacket, only the top two buttons open and with a blue print scarf hiding any cleavage that might accidently peek out—damn it. It looked like an expensive outfit, but then she could make WalMart jeans look expensive.
He was admiring the round swell of hip accented by the fitted jacket when a man stepped through the door, pulling a ski mask down over his face and a weapon out of a jacket pocket. While Point berated himself for being lax, the man covered the space from the door to the counter and shoved Classy Lady hard into the counter. Her coffee splashed down the front of her suit as the cup flew out of her hand.
“Down on the floor, bitch! You! Behind the counter! Keep your hands where I can see them!”
Bitch? Point launched himself out of the chair. The gunman got off two shots before Point disarmed him, breaking several of the man's fingers in the process and—maybe—his arm as he threw him to the floor. Ignoring the perp's shrieks and curses of pain, he planted his knee in the middle of the guy's back while he cuffed him. Only then did he look up.
Classy Lady was staring at him in compete shock. She didn’t look a bit frightened, and she didn’t seem to notice that hot coffee was dripping off her breasts--her round, soft-looking breasts--onto her blue leather shoes. Maybe it hadn’t soaked through the wool jacket yet.
“Are you OK? Hey, Pete, get her some cold water. That coffee probably burns.”  

from When the Moon Is Risen, book four in the series that starts with When the Moon Is Gibbous and Waxing

Friday, August 10, 2012

Hidden Places and Secret Spaces

My father loved hidden things: boxes with hidden locks, secret drawers in furniture, hidden cubbies in unlikely places…
            I’d known about his fascination with boxes for quite some time. He loved the way the fit together, especially those with dovetailed joints. I found out about his interest in hidden locks when I accidentally bought him a box for Christmas that had one. I’d bought it for the beauty of the wood; he enjoyed learning how to open it.
            Later, when Hubby and I had had our adventure in the world and limped back home to raise our two children, our financial situation forced us to settle in a very small house. Our older daughter wound up with the smallest of the three bedrooms. In my search to maximize the space, I found a picture in a magazine of a twin bed built over a double row of drawers and with bookcases rising up from the side against the wall. It was perfect.
            I showed the picture to my father, explaining why I felt Katriena needed it. He and Hubby drew up a plan, bought wood, and went to work. It was perfect: six dresser-like drawers in front and a door in the back that wasn’t included in the model bed where long objects could be stored. I don’t remember what Katriena had that made him think she needed that. Then he pulled one of the top drawers completely out to reveal a secret drawer where Katriena could store things she didn’t want just everyone to be able to find.
            But my father’s real masterpiece was the house on the lake. My mother had always wanted to live on a lake, and my father’s goal in life was to give her everything she wanted. (She really didn’t ask for much, to tell the truth.) They’d bought the lot several years earlier and used the garage/cabin on weekends. Then when he retired, they started the house.
            They’d built a house together before—the house I grew up in—all by themselves. They made a few mistakes, but nothing most people ever noticed. This time, at the age of 60, my father wisely decided to hire a little help. He had a man to dig the foundation and help laying it and a team to install the sheetrock, and my teenaged nephew spent the summer with him, learning how to build.
            My father had read that most houses destroyed by tornadoes are wrecked because the tornado lifts the roof, usually attached to the frame only with a few nails. (They call it toe-nailing, I believe). So he bolted the frame to the foundation, then bolted steel straps to the top of the frame and over the roof trusses. Going to take a Class 5 to blow that baby down. But just in case, in the hall he put a trapdoor that led down to the crawl space, which was plastic lined to keep it clean and dry. All hidden.
            Then he decided the house needed secret hiding places—I was never sure for what, since they had very little worth stealing.  Nevertheless, he built them—not in the living room or bedroom, where most thieves would look, but in the bathroom. One, I believe, was behind a built-in magazine rack. The location of the other was so funny that I remember it well—behind the recess in the wall that held the toilet tissue.
            I wonder still if the people who live in that house now have found all the secret places and hidden safety features. As for the bed, it still has a place in my home. My granddaughter sleeps in it when she comes to visit, but the hidden drawer is empty. I, too, have very little anyone would want to steal—even my small amount of jewelry has mostly sentimental value. But I can almost hear my dad shouting across the vale, “Put it in that drawer! Don’t you know that’s what it’s for?”

Saturday, August 4, 2012


I really didn’t know what to expect when my novel was published in mid-May.

I know what I could have expected way back when I had the nightmare that inspired the novel.  If I could have convinced an agent to represent an older but unpublished author of a book that’s a little hard to label and that agent had been able to convince a publisher to buy it, I would have received a small advance, and the book would have been released with a certain amount of ceremony. The publisher would have sent copies to reviewers and might have arranged interviews and a book tour.

Through the years, I wrote off and on, juggling my hobby with grandchildren and stressful jobs, while the world changed. Finally I retired and picked up the stack of pages I had stuffed into a file cabinet in the spare bedroom. And I realized I was no longer dependent on the agent or even the publisher. While I’d been involved in a different kind of writing career, both had been rendered optional by technology and culture.

Still, I decided I’d try to get an agent while I worked on rewrites. If I didn’t find one by the time I finished, I’d submit to one of the small companies sometimes called independent publishers because they aren’t one of the large corporations, which had by then shrunk to “the big six.” Although self-publishing was another viable option, I decided I wanted the validation of having my book professionally published.

I didn’t find an agent, so I sent a query letter to my small publisher of choice. They responded that they wouldn’t even look at any urban fantasy novel more than 70,000 words long.

THAT was unexpected. When I finished the first draft, books were supposed to be at least 120,000 words—and that’s almost exactly what I had written.

So I started editing. And I cut 40,000 words. Without damaging the plot or character development.

It was the best education I could have gotten in editing. But I still had 80,000 words, and I felt that while I could cut maybe another 5,000, I simply couldn’t reach the required 70,000 without ruining the book.

I sent a query to another publisher, one who had a sterling reputation and had recently won a prestigious prize.. They loved it. Send it, they said.

They lost it.


But I had an alternate plan. My daughter, author Katriena Knights, had told me about Etopia Press, a new company that was growing rapidly and liked books in all genres including those that were hard to peg. I queried them, and two weeks later was assigned an editor. She gave me the second-best education I could have gotten in editing, including asking me to add back in 5,000 words, much of which I still had in the original copy I had saved on my computer.

No advance. No review copies sent out. No interviews. No author tour. Par for the course for small independent publishers. (Some give small advances to selected authors. I wasn’t selected.)

I had business cards printed with the cover of my novel on them and started passing them out to everyone I could get to take them. I mentioned my novel on Facebook and Twitter. I got a review in the local newspaper. I pulled out attendee lists from every tour I’d ever gone on and every workshop and convention I’d ever attended and started sending e-mails. Haven't figured out how to do a book tour for an e-book yet, but I have post cards with the cover to autograph just in case anyone asks. 

As well as I can tell, Amazon must have more than a million Kindle books listed. Of course, I’m sure they don’t have that many ranks, because many books would tie. But “When the Moon Is Gibbous and Waxing” was ranked at 50,000 several days and has bounced between the 100,000s and 200,000s ever since. I have no idea how that translates into sales, but I think it might be OK.

I can’t say that’s completely unexpected. : - )

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Getting an Education in Modern Technology

My MacBook is a little more than four years old, now, and I discovered on the Apple Store today that it might not even come in under the wire for updating to Mountain Lion later this month. Not that it matters—I never got it updated to Snow Leopard, so I’ll probably need help just getting less far behind.  Since I live about an hour’s drive from an Apple Store, I really should get a back-up computer just in case mine dies at a very bad time.

So I opted to get an iPad instead.

Yeah, I know. It’s kind of like going to the grocery store for a gallon of milk and coming home with a pint of ice cream. But it does give me an alternative to my BlackBerry, especially since the BB is also on its last legs.

The BB does a good job on two of my four (yes, four) e-mail accounts and on one of my two Facebook accounts, and can do it anywhere I can get a phone signal. But it doesn’t go to the internet well, and there’s always that other Facebook and two e-mail accounts. Oh, and it also does well on phone calls and texts.  : - )

The iPad does a great job on all the e-mail accounts, all the Facebook accounts, and internet, but it needs an internet connection. It works great at Panera, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and about any hotel. I could get phone calls if I signed on to Skype. But I haven’t found a way to get text messages yet—so it might not be possible.

And that brings us to this week’s blog prompt—education.

I really get a kick out of learning new technology, but it seems to take me longer than it used to. I refuse to believe that’s because I’m older. I think it’s because no body prints user manuals any more. They try to tell you it’s “intuitive,” and some of it is, even if you’ve never owned an iPod. But how is it intuitive to draw four or five fingers together on a screen to close it? And after years of moving your cursor down a screen to go down, it’s hard to remember to move your finger UP the screen to go down.

So now you know why I’m so late with this blog. (Ok, I’m nearly always late.) I’ve spent the entire week getting an education in the care and feeding of an iPad. (Yeah, feeding—that’s another matter. But I’ve spent less than $10 so far on aps. And one of them shows me the phases of the moon every day of the month. How cool is that?) I still have a lot to learn, but I’m well on the way.  Hey, maybe my next blog will be written on my iPad!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Captain Marvel and the Seven Deadly Sins

Does anyone else remember reading Captain Marvel comic books, or am I the oldest codger in the group?

I LOVED comic books when I was a kid. Spent HOURS reading them and more hours with those I was tired of reading in the basket of my bicycle, riding around the neighborhood, trading with my friends for comics I hadn’t read yet.

And the adults all said, “Tsk, tsk, tsk. What are these kids nowadays coming to? Those comic books are eating their brains and morals.” Well, except my parents. Not sure what they thought of comics, but they realized that I read ALL THE TIME, and was reading real books at least as much as I read comic books. They just wanted to get me outside in the sun so people would quit asking them if I was anemic. (Now I pay the price for their good parenting by having occasional skin cancers. It’s OK—they aren’t the scary kind. Just leave my face with white polka dots when they're removed.)

Anyway, the Captain Marvel comic books were my introduction to the seven deadly sins, though according to Wikipedia, I don’t have it quite right. First, they say Captain Marvel had lost most of his popularity by the time I was old enough to read. Then, though I remember greed, gluttony, envy, sloth, hubris, wrath and lust, they list a slightly cleaned up version they call the Seven Deadly Enemies of Man: greed, envy, laziness, pride, hatred, selfishness and injustice. (Wouldn’t want to expose the kiddies to the word lust, right?)

I also remember Billy being a crippled newsboy. Wikipedia says he was homeless, but doesn’t show him with one crutch as I remember.

The one thing Wikipedia and my memory agree on is the origin of the word SHAZAM. It’s an acronym for six legendary heroes who grant attributes to Billy to turn him into Captain Marvel: Solomon for wisdom, Hercules for strength, Atlas for stamina, Zeus for power, Achilles for courage, and Mercury for speed. When Billy says the word, a bolt of lightning transforms him into Captain Marvel. Unfortunately, it didn’t work that way for me or Gomer Pyle. (Actually, Gomer Pyle pronounced it SHAZAYUM, but I pronounced it correctly, and it still didn’t work.)

So most of my childhood memories have been rent asunder by research into the seven deadly sins. Man, I just KNEW I learned the word hubris from Captain Marvel. It’s such a cool word.