24 December 2014

Blessings of the Season

Boy, that was a fast four weeks...

Wishing everyone Happy Holidays! Oh wait...

I actually had a person take my arm last week and admonish that I was to wish her a "Merry Christmas" as opposed to "Happy Holidays." I looked at her with my best Spock eyebrow arch and said, "Merry Christmas then. I won't insult you by wishing you a Happy New Year as well."

I find this to be a prevalent attitude among people of a certain age and a certain religion, so most of the time I just let them have their moment of self-righteousness and move on. But to be so adamant as so grab my arm? Whoa. How about a little HISTORY lesson?

From Neolithic times, people throughout the world have observed and celebrated the
Photo by Jude Johnson 2014
Winter Solstice: the North Pole is in twenty-four hours of darkness while the South Pole has twenty-four hours of light. In the Northern Hemisphere, ancient agricultural societies marked this time with feasting, mainly because they had no way to truly preserve meat. January and February were "starvation season" and every plant harvested back in the autumn was needed to ensure their own survival. Slaughtering livestock at this time saved resources, and the meat had to be eaten within two weeks. It also became a celebration of the increase in daylight hours, heralding another planting season. The Romans observed Saturnalia at this time, and the early Christian church arbitrarily adopted the Nordic/Germanic/Pagan observance of Yule (the Winter Solstice) to be celebrated as the birth of Jesus to accommodate conversion of people to Christianity, not because it was the actual birth date.

Yuletide carols being sung by a choir ring a bell with anyone? And of course, Snoopy's "Have a Cool Yule"!

When I hear "Put Christ back in Christmas" and "Jesus is the Reason for the Season", the historian in me bristles a bit.  If you want to get all huffy about it, the Winter Solstice is historically the reason for celebration of this season, dating from before the creation of Stonehenge. Have you ever wondered why so many religions celebrate LIGHT this time of year? It's prime sales time for candles from Yule and Hanukkah to Christmas and Kwanzaa. It comes from the fact that Neolithic societies observed the lengthening of the daylight hours from the end of December until the middle of June. Lighting candles symbolizes the return of the sun and daylight. Whatever your belief system is now, it can culturally and historically be traced back to this.

So let's lighten up (pun intended) and just accept good wishes from those who wish "Happy Holidays," for there are many days of wonder and feasting to celebrate in our many and diverse cultures. All of them are worthy of validation.

May you all enjoy peace and happiness in the coming year.

Happy writing, 

13 November 2014

2014 The All-Zona Book Fest

If you've been wondering why I haven't posted in six weeks, it is due to The All-Zona Book Fest
happening on Sunday, November 23. The venue is St. Francis Cabrini Parish Hall, 3201 East Presidio Road in Tucson, and it will run from 9:00AM till 3:00PM. My fellow Gecko Gals Ink members and I have been working on this event since July. This year we have a great mix of forty-five authors who write in all sorts of genres plus a couple of community service partners.

First, St. Vincent DePaul will hold a Silent Auction and White Elephant sale to benefit those in need in the Tucson community. All sorts of nifty collectibles and Useful Things will be available. SVDP will also provide purchase options for food and drink.

KVOA Channel Four's Kristi's Kids will collect book donations appropriate for grade levels K-12 to be distributed through Literacy Connects/Reading Seed. Those who donate two or more books will receive a special token worth $5 credit at any of our Copper Star participating booths. Look for the tables with --yep, real copper stars.


Conrad Storad
We are excited to have Conrad Storad give presentations for children and families about the creatures he features in his books on the Main Stage at 10 AM and again at 2PM.

H. Alan Day and co-author Lynn Wiese Sneyd

Arizona ranching memoir author H. Alan Day and co-author Lynn Wiese Sneyd will sign copies of The Horse Lover at Mostly Books's table from 10:00AM till noon.

 University of Arizona Medical Center Chief trauma surgeon Peter Rhee, M.D will sign copies of his memoir at Mostly Books' table from 12:30PM till 1:30 PM.

Tucson Favorite Artist Diana Madaras will have a table with a lovely selection of greeting cards and calendars as well as her coffee table book, Private Spaces.

Editorial cartoonist and Tucson humorist David Fitzsimmons will be on hand from 1:00PM till 2:00PM on the main stage.

David Fitzsimmons

Watch for money-saving coupons in The Arizona Daily Star's Caliente section AND the Tucson Weekly on Thursday, November 20! And check our website for A Special Offer as well: http://geckogalsink.wix.com/all-zonabookfest.

Happy Reading,

30 September 2014

Change of Reason

Changing season, change of reason. Ever notice how people start to change their way of thinking when the planet turns into a new angle? We prepare for winter in the fall physically and mentally. Perhaps this is more noticeable in the East or where the weather gets nasty, but even here in the desert the mindset shifts with the autumnal equinox.

Of course in Tucson, it's a myth that the weather gets cooler when fall arrives. After three to four months of triple-digit temps, most people are quite ready for a nip in the air. But we truly can't expect coolness until the end of October. Even then, we often hit the mid-nineties in November. Just ask the folks who set up the Tucson Celtic Festival and Highland Games, which annually runs the first weekend of November. Wearing wool tartans means sweating profusely and dehydration is likely more often than not.

Winterizing in Tucson means wearing closed-toe shoes and shirts with sleeves. Seriously considering sitting on a restaurant's patio for lunch is no longer a confirmation of insanity.  There is no further need to race other drivers to shady parking spots. We don't have to put up storm windows, worry about raking piles of leaves, or changing the car to snow tires.

Yet, here we are on that cusp of October, eagerly anticipating nights cool enough to open the windows and days when the AC isn't constantly whirring. It's a new outlook of relief. Now ideas fall like leaves to litter the recesses of the imagination, no longer preoccupied with surviving the heat.

Time to rake a few into a pile and jump in!

Happy writing,

19 September 2014

Fanfic v Plagiarism

A friend on Facebook brought an article to my attention yesterday. A person who purports to be a young mother concerned for the religious state of her children's souls decided to "improve" J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter by rewriting it. So "Ann Grace" copied each chapter word for word and changed anything to do with magical aspects into far right Super Christian/anti-everyone-else-but-my church spew.

Here's the mess: http://www.tickld.com/x/this-woman-just-changed-harry-potter-for-her-kids-seriously

I don't care about her religious soapbox. That's her poison to choose. What really bothers me is that she 1) claimed she was writing "fanfic", 2) was "new" to fanfic, and 3) thought the books were "inappropriate and evil" because they contained witchcraft. Let's look at this for a moment, shall we?

1) FANFIC. Short for FAN FICTION. Fan being short for FANATIC, as in a supporter. If you hate a book, you can't write a "fanfic" version of it by definition. You could write satire, but that's not what this is and it takes intelligence to write, so uh, no.

2) She obviously has no clue that fanfic has guidelines and rules to NOT infringe on an author's copyright. If she's so new to it, how did she find a site to publish her horrid production?

3) If you think a book is inappropriate, why would you even consider letting your children read a bastardized version of it? There are a virtual ton of Christian-themed books and videos already available for children, from Veggie Tales on--why would you not simply purchase those books for your kids? If you can't comprehend that FICTION means it is NOT REAL, then don't buy books that are labeled Fantasy in the Fiction section.

What is scary about this is her overt plagiarism and hubris to think she could or even should change a few words around but keep everything else Ms. Rowling created, and then call it "fanfic." She posted the entire thing on a writing site, which is considered to be PUBLISHED, even if she did not sell it to anyone.

Let's call is what it really is: STEALING.  Explain how that fits into the "Christian Values" you claim to be so very concerned about.  If fantasy, magic, and witchcraft are all so very evil, how much worse is it to break your own religion's tenets? Is it not covetous to want to rewrite someone else's creation? Is it not stealing to copy and paste entire sections of someone else's work to change a few words here and there to subvert its meaning? I believe those are two out of ten commandments...

I hope Rowling's people slam down hard on this sort of crap. It could happen to any author in the name of "fanfic" by people who neither are "fanatic supporters" nor understand the concept of fiction.

06 September 2014

Grammar Nazi?

There are times I wish I'd never started writing. It has ruined the pleasure of just reading for me. Typos my eyes used to forgive now pop out and bring a story to a screeching halt. I understand, however, how these things are easily overlooked. Even with an editor and independent proofreaders, accidental misspellings slip past all these eyes to make it into a published book. Nowadays, one or two typos are no big deal. More than that, you have a problem.

Which brings me to a question: Do readers really care? I see glowing reviews for books in which, when I finally get to read them, I see numerous mistakes. Big glaring mistakes, in fact. Do readers forgive all when the story is compelling?

I hear people speak badly all the time. Sometimes it's for silly effect, such as mimicking the LOL Catspeak of "I can has cheeseburger." But unfortunately poor grammar is infiltrating the media more and more. Hearing an announcer say "most teachers is" or " the players is" sends pain up my spinal cord like fingernails on a chalkboard. Does no one else notice?

Is this all part of the same problem? Has the "dumbing down" of America and the cessation of teaching proper grammar in school made such errors irrelevant? I'm not saying we all have to sound like we've attended Cambridge or Oxford, but we must make an effort to at least sound competent in our own language. When we hear ourselves speaking better, perhaps we'll catch more errors when we write as well.

27 August 2014

When a Book Becomes a Television Event

Diana Gabaldon's Outlander broke new ground when initially published in 1991. Not quite sci-fi, nor fantasy, it had lots of sex and grand adventure but didn't quite fit the rules of romance either. A smashing success, it went on to span a number of novels, continuing on to the newest just released this summer, Written in My Own Heart's Blood.

After twenty-three years, you can imagine how excited fans of the series were to learn that Claire and Jaime and the Highlanders of Scotland would finally make it to film. Now Outlander is a series on the Starz cable network, which has many people eagerly contacting their cable companies and looking forward to Saturday nights again.

One of the executive producers is Ronald D. Moore, who was the wizard behind the refurbished Battlestar Gallactica series that took a campy space show and turned it into a gritty, realistic commentary on the absurdities of war and the human condition. This boded well in my mind because I knew he wouldn't turn it into some sappy Hallmark sweet-sop or melodramatic Lifetime special.

But I'll admit, I had my reservations about seeing this book brought to life. After all, one of the pleasantries of reading is envisioning the characters in your own mind's eye. The reader comes to care about these people, picturing their faces and hearing their voices in a particularly personal way.

Casting beloved characters is always tricky. Just ask the men who have played Batman over the years in different films. Ben Affleck has been slated to play him after Christian Bale reinvented the character in three films, and the fans have been less than kind. Many fans were not thrilled with Keira Knightley's Elizabeth Bennet after watching Jennifer Ehle embody the role in the 1995 production of Price & Prejudice. And truly, could anyone actually believe Lucille Ball as Scarlet O'Hara instead of Vivian Leigh in Gone With the Wind?

With hesitation, therefore, I watched the first episode. I was thrilled with the cinematography, the locations in Scotland, the beautiful costuming. plays Claire Randall, and does all right with it. She's perfectly thin--for 2014, not post-WWII Britain, but well, okay.  Jaime Fraser is played quite well by , a native Scot who definitely brings some authenticity to that Scots burr. Frank/Black Jack Randall is played by who played Brutus on HBO's Rome series. Not at all what I pictured.  Let's say Rupert Friend might have been a bit more sexy. I would hope the chemistry that should ignite the triangle between the leads will kick in at some point, because so far to me it seems to barely sputter.

I have major issues with the way this story is being told. Because it is literally being told. Claire narrates so much I wonder if she really means to be doing a historical documentary. Authors are constantly warned to SHOW, not TELL, and movies are all about the showing. Claire's narration drives me to distraction. She could talk to herself for heaven's sake instead of the near constant voice-over as she wanders along a hallway or field. Often directors will add a new character as a foil, a sounding board for the protagonist to express his thoughts. They did that in the Hornblower series by keeping Lieutenant Archie Kennedy in the storyline far longer than C.S. Forester ever had him in the books. Horatio discussed things with Archie in a way that let the audience see and hear his doubts, his fears, and his intentions. It worked.  Give Claire a dog to share her doubts and fears with if necessary, but shut that damn narration up.

 I have watched two episodes out of three that have aired, and the disappointment level simply continued to grow. Yes, I am in the minority, I know. Most of my friends who love the books are eating this series up and enjoying the experience. I like the costumes. I adore the landscapes and the camera work is breathtaking. But for me there's no spark, no burning reason to keep tuning in. I might give one more episode a go, but the moment Claire goes into her Ken Burns mode, I'm done.


16 August 2014

Words Don't Help.

Robin Williams, quite possibly one of the most intelligent comic geniuses to walk this planet, died this week. In the aftermath of the news that he took his own life at the nadir of his long battle with depression there has been a slew of information about depression and suicide prevention.

Forgive me if I'm more than a little cynical about this surge of newfound "concern" over depression. These platitudes anger and frustrate not only those who suffer from this condition but those who love them. It will be all forgotten when one of the willfully stupid celebrities society worships pulls another bullshit stunt.

Because that is part of what this disease inflates: the sense of futility, hopelessness, and despair that nothing will improve as long as the world worships moronic behavior and stupidity. From Honey Boo Boo to Kim Kardashian, the Westboro Baptists and ISIS, to every polarized self-serving jerk in Congress, the idiots are glorified, worshiped, adored--and emulated. Apathy runs rampant among those who could potentially change the world because they see the majority of people choose to love stupidity and refuse to change.

Perhaps there was a subliminal reason the Genie character Mr. Williams voiced in Aladdin was blue. They say most comedians are in psychic pain; it allows them to see how inane and ridiculous the world can be. His death hit me hard. If someone as funny and amazing as Robin Williams couldn't manage to see his way through, how in the world will I?
This video illuminates a little of what depression feels like. It's different for each individual, of course. But one thing missing is the comment that aggravates depression and often drives sufferers into total silence about how much agony they are experiencing. If you truly care for someone battling depression, never EVER say this to them:

"What do you have to be depressed about?"

No aspect of depression is logical. Get that? It makes no sense when the darkness descends and the light hurts. There are no steps to follow down or up, and you can't just "snap out of it" by thinking cheery thoughts. It's a spiral into an abyss of despair that generates self-loathing because you can't pull yourself up, you can't do what everyone wants you to do, and you hate yourself for resenting those who are only trying to help but making you feel even worse.

Sometimes writing allows you to climb up from the depths. Sometimes even words on paper are acidic and sour and the screen is too bright. And yet, sometimes--most of the time--it lightens the heavy psychic burden and makes it tolerable to breathe again. It's an outlet only you can access.

Words, platitudes, cheerful intentions, and slogans from well-meaning friends don't help. Being there, silently supporting, making an effort to understand, does. I sympathize completely with Mr. Williams and his frustration with treatment. There are no easy answers. My heart goes out to his family who have suffered for decades with him and his efforts to keep going. They are heartbroken now and yet, surely they understand that at last he is at peace.

[This post has been simultaneously published on The Writers' Vineyard.]

29 July 2014

Forcing the Issue

"Write every day." You read this all the time as the most essential discipline for a writer to develop. Most of us do write every day: emails, Tweets, blog posts, letters. Some days you even get to work on your manuscript.

There are times, however, when forcing the issue is not constructive. I shall dare to say it is counterproductive. There are days when the words just will not come, and what does emerge is pure garbage. One school of thought maintains that continuing to push through will get the trite and hackneyed mess out of your system, allowing your thoughts to crystallize and your word choices to grow more precise. I've experienced this. In fact, usually it's how things work.

But there are times [for me it seems they happen more often than not during the dog days of summer, which are right damn now] when your work is just pure crap and producing more of the same is utterly depressing and thoroughly demoralizing. That's when it's acceptable--desirable, even--to step back and away from the keyboard. Close your eyes and let your mind wander elsewhere. Go for a walk, exercise, read a book that is completely different from what you're trying to write. Take a vacation from your work and let your batteries recharge. It's OKAY not to force the issue.

Now you know why I've been so long between blog posts.

Happy writing,

04 July 2014

Happy Independence Day!

Today is celebrated as our nation's birthday, when the Second Continental Congress publicly distributed the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. As the Revolutionary War is the period of my current WIP, let me dispel a few myths we Americans are spoon-fed from our first days of school, like this Schoolhouse Rock video demonstrates:

[ But I still love Schoolhouse Rock.]

1. All Americans wanted Independence from England.
   NOPE. This was not a unanimous, nor even widespread agreement to split from Britain. Not even one third of the colonial population wanted a complete break. Most people only wanted to go back to the "hands off" policies Parliament had given the colonies from their earliest days. It was only after the French and Indian War --Seven Year's War in the UK-- that Parliament decided the colonists needed to repay the Crown for the expenses of their defense. Considering that most of the blood shed and lives lost had been colonists, they felt that had already paid enough.

2. Samuel Adams was a defender of Liberty and greatly admired.
   NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH. Samuel Adams was a terrorist of the first rank who hated George III and Parliament with every fiber of his being for the ruin and disgrace they had inflicted upon his father and his family. Samuel had watched his status tumble from the highest ranking at Harvard to the absolute bottom. Everything he had crumbled to dust when the Crown made it illegal for colonists to mint their own money for commerce and trade amongst themselves. He ran his father's brewery into the ground. But he was a master manipulator of the highest order and could stir the emotions of hard-pressed men into a riotous mob in a matter of minutes. If you did not agree with him, if you held different beliefs (such as being a Catholic) and openly opposed him, Sam would send the mob on a "home invasion": they would storm into a house and destroy everything in their path. If they caught the person they were after, he would be tarred, feathered, paraded through the streets, and finally hung by a rope around his chest from the Liberty Tree. How anyone ever survived that ordeal is truly astonishing. Sam Adams was not admired--he inspired fear in loyalists and colonists alike.

3. The Boston Tea Party united the colonies against George III.
   Oh hell to the no. Most of the colonists outside of Boston were aghast when they heard about the wanton vandalism of the tea ships. Benjamin Franklin proposed the people of Massachusetts should reimburse the East India Company the price of the lost cargo--£9,659 or about $1 million today. But then Parliament blew an opportunity to avoid conflict big time and passed the retaliative Coercive Acts, which came to be known as The Intolerable Acts. Those did more to unite the Thirteen than anything Samuel Adams could invent.

4. The American Militia outwitted the British.
  Actually, the British kept shooting themselves in the feet. From the vindictiveness of Lord North and Parliament to the hesitation of General Gage and the overblown egos of many English generals--artistocrats all, they considered themselves far superior to any colonial rabble--those in charge continually played into Samuel Adams' hands and the nonconformist thinking of many American commanders who had learned how to fight when outnumbered from the French and Indian War. 

5. George Washington was a brilliant military strategist.
   He was intelligent, thoughtful, and quite willing to listen to his other commanders' opinions, but George Washington sometimes boxed himself into corners, getting outflanked and outmaneuvered because he wanted to fight in the European style. He had wanted a commission in the English Army after the French and Indian War but had been rejected, so he hoped to beat them at their own game. He would be defying the greatest superpower in the world at the time with very few cannons, little munitions, and an army that had no sense of chain of command or discipline. A man became an officer if he brought eight or more men in with him (usually all relatives). Everyone was used to adding their input to the decision-making process such as in their town hall meetings. And when a battle was over, they could go home. That was the state of the army Washington had to whip into shape in a matter of mere months. If it hadn't been for major blunders by British commanders and the timely arrival of Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de La Fayette with French forces, the war might very well have had a different outcome.
American colonists had no true concept of rigid class division by the mid-eighteenth century. There was no aristocracy one had to be born into to acquire admiration or authority. All anyone had to do to achieve higher social status was to be ambitious and successful. Even should you fail, you could try again and again with determination, persistance, and luck. This was totally unheard of in Europe. And govern themselves without the divine right of a king? It was impertinent, obnoxious, and absurd. How dare these "Americans" think such a thing?

The American Revolution was an absolutely incredible feat. By all accounts, we never should have won. But for a few horrible decisions, it never would have come to a war and bloodshed. There was no central government. The Thirteen Colonies had no central income, no reserves, no money to pay their army. They had no navy at all when the Declaration was signed. To start a war over "Taxation without Represenation"? The taxes the new American government had to levy after the Revolution were far higher than the two pence per ton on tea that got Sam Adams' knickers in a knot. In fact, Washington had to put down Shay's Rebellion in 1786-87 over these taxes, resulting in the rejection of the Ariticles of Confederation and the drafting of the U.S. Constitution.

Yet, it seems Fate was determined this "experiment in democracy" would happen, and succeed, and flourish for these 238 years. Imperfect? You bet. We have much work yet to do. But there is much to admire in this country, much to emulate, and much to love. We were, and still are by and large, a determined and incredible people. (Outside of WalMart, of course.)

Happy Birthday, kids. Let Freedom Ring.


20 June 2014

You Want to Write About THAT?

It's often said that writing is a lonely enterprise. There's good reason. Writers live inside their imaginations for long periods of time exploring story lines, picturing their characters, considering conflicts. When asked about a current WIP, we find it difficult to explain because we're still exploring possibilities. But if you live with a writer, are married to a writer, or just care about one and hope to keep the relationship on a happy note, never, ever say, "And you want to write about that?"

During the course of research, especially when writing historical fiction, we come across information that is rather hard to digest today. For example, in Dragon's Legacy I included the deplorable situation where white men kidnapped Irish children from the Mexican families who were adopting them not because they were concerned about their welfare but solely on the notion that white children should not be adopted by Mexicans. Never mind the fact that, at that time, the Irish were considered "non-white" lesser beings, unemployable and segregated from white Ango-Saxon Protestants on nearly the same scale as Mexicans and African-Americans.
Never mind that it was a Catholic agency placing Catholic children with Catholic families. White men rode into the mining towns of Clifton and Morenci during a summer thunderstorm and pulled children from their beds at gunpoint. Some came down with pneumonia as a result, some were shipped off to white families who used them as slaves. It was an ugly incident--and I wanted more people to know this happened.

Recently, my spouse asked what I was working on, so I told him. I tried to discuss the horrific practice of tarring and feathering. Hence the title of this post. I'm certain that most people--and definitely most Americans--have never considered just exactly what being tarred and feathered entailed. How anyone ever survived it amazes me. And yes, I do want to write about it, describe it in full detail, and show how the people of the times reacted to such a practice.

I don't think I'll be using the spouse as a beta reader, however.

Happy writing,

12 June 2014

On the Rejuvenating Nature of Naps

There was a time when Latin cultures incorporated down time into the daily routine. Siesta was prevelant throughout the world as a result of the Spanish colonizations. From Madrid to Manilla, from noon until three or even four, quiet reigned the afternoon.

Here in the Southwest, siesta remained ingrained in the culture until World War II. Businesses
closed during the hottest period of the day, allowing their workers to rest, catch up, and slow down to avoid heat exhaustion.

It's a grand idea. When the outside temperatures are 107 to 110, it's toasty. Moving through the heat takes more energy, wears you down, and makes you sleepy. So it's a great time to take a nap.

And so I think I shall.

Happy writing,

05 June 2014

And Now For Something Serious

"Facebook is only supposed to be for fun and lighthearted catching up with friends," so I've been told.  "Don't put such serious rants or depressing news on FB."

Well for one thing, you're missing the entire power potential of social media if all you want are rainbows and lollipops coming at you. Used to be  newspapers would rally the populace to make societal change. Now it's Twitter and Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr, and whatever else everyone uses.  There are important issues to know about, events going on that affect you, your family, and possibly the generations to come. So buck up, buttercup, and read on. Changes need to be made and one of the biggest is the misogynistic culture constantly bombarding us.

Perhaps you have heard of the mass shootings in Santa Barbara a couple of weeks ago. How a young man became so enraged at "not getting any" that he went on a murderous rampage, particularly focused on a sorority house. The debate about mental illness and gun control is not what I wish to address here (though that is definitely a much needed discussion) but the environment in which this young man felt entitled to sex so strongly it was a logical progression to kill those who had denied him. Yes, he also killed others who had mocked him or otherwise disagreed with him, but his so-called "manifesto" was essentially a rant about his inability to get laid.

What encourages this attitude, this thinking that women OWE men their bodies? One of the best analyses of the current overriding acceptance of rape culture is by an intelligent young man named Arthur Chu, who was a very successful champion on the game show, Jeopardy!  In his May 27, 2014  article, "Your Princess is in Another Castle", Chu presents a valid point:
But the overall problem is one of a culture where instead of seeing women as, you know, people, protagonists of their own stories just like we are of ours, men are taught that women are things to “earn,” to “win.” That if we try hard enough and persist long enough, we’ll get the girl in the end. Like life is a video game and women, like money and status, are just part of the reward we get for doing well.
While his point of view is focused from that of a "nerd", this is the mainstream male culture perpetuated in society. From religious extremists who feel so strongly about denying education to girls that they condone shooting them, to legislators who state "Rape is just another means of conception", to the offensive notion of a "trophy wife", misogyny in all its forms is applauded and upheld as "proper family values" around the world.

It has to stop. Change must start with teaching our sons from the cradle that women are not property, prizes, or rewards. That every woman has her own brain, her own dreams, and her own goals. Don't pine over or stalk anyone who is not interested in you just because you think she would be a prize or a notch on your belt. And "No" means fucking "NO", damn  it.

As Mr. Chu states, grow up.

Happy writing,

29 May 2014

Ocean Kayaking, Writing, and the Occasional Need to Hurl

Writing is work, we all know that. But writing is also akin to kayaking. Let me explain...

May 11 2014, yours truly and the husband took the newly graduated son on what was supposed to be a kayaking/snorkeling tour in La Jolla Cove. I should have paid attention when the nice gal who checked us in said, "We've had to cancel the snorkeling portion because the water is a bit too rough. Would you still want to kayak?" 

Heck, there was a family with a six-year-old going, I couldn't very well chicken out, could I? As when beginning my writing endeavors, I had no idea what might be ahead. I enthusiastically agreed to continue.

People warn you. "Writing is hard." We were warned: "The swells are three to four feet and getting larger."  
Pah! I can handle that! How hard can it be?
Let me preface this story with a bit of background. My son loves being by the sea. But he's four for four when it comes to getting on a boat and suffering seasickness. As we were waiting to get outfitted for our adventure, he decided he needed to eat a sandwich. 
Me: Are you sure that's a good idea, honey?
Him: Oh yeah, I'm starving.
Me: Mmmk...
  Soon we were decked out in wetsuits, lifevests, and helmets. The Go-Pro camera was mounted on my son's helmet, so what you see in the video is his POV. A short walk got us to the beach where the kayaks and guides waited. After instruction on how to paddle and how to get back in if you fall out, we headed into the surf. 
As with writing, at first it seems pretty easy, gliding along. You have people behind you, pushing, and a guide or two ahead, waiting for you to reach their level. Then you're suddenly on your own, facing a bit of resistance as the first wave comes at you. Hurrah! You're through! Each wave, each hurdle grows. It takes more effort, harder work, to get through each one. 

The big wave at about the 2:28 mark in this video took me down.


I'd almost cleared the crest when the curl came over and flipped my kayak. I tumbled out and felt the initial sense of panic, trying to figure out which way was up. Every time I came up for air, another wave smashed over my head. I gulped a gallon of seawater--YUCK. The realization finally dawned that if I just relaxed, the waves would shove me right back to shore. When I did, the life vest popped me to the surface and at last got a good breath. But I never let go of my paddle, by Jove! 

One of the tour workers had run out into the surf, snagged my kayak, and worked his way out to where I was able to get to my feet to stand. By then I was determined I was going to get right back out there, so I hefted my big fat butt up, flopped into the kayak like a walrus--just as they'd told us to do--and paddled back out. This time, I made it to the deeper, relatively calmer area where everyone else waited. 

Luckily, the SD card for the camera had filled before seasickness overwhelmed my son and the  sandwich he'd scarfed (and more) hurled into the sea for the fishies. Luckily for me, we were nearly finished with the tour before all that saltwater I'd swallowed and the motion of the ever-increasing waves suddenly hit my stomach and I paid homage to Poseidon as well.

How is that akin to writing? Well, sometimes you're going along, thinking you're doing fine and you suddenly realize something just isn't right. You feel the need and soon... MUST. HURL. NOW. When you do, as soon as you get that yukky stuff out, everything seems much, much better. You can finish with a clearer head and enjoy the remainder of the experience.

As a final note, let me recommend that you still save whatever you cut from a writing project or manuscript. With time, life experience, and continuing craft skills, you will see it from a different perspective and possibly find something worth using in a different way. Maybe yes, maybe no, but it's worth a shot. Just like trying anything new, it's worth the effort.

Happy writing - and kayaking!

17 May 2014

Nuggets of Advice For Every Writer

I was going to write about my kayaking experience last weekend celebrating my son's college graduation/Mother's Day, but changed my mind as soon as I read this article by suspense /mystery author Russell Blake. I will post a few quotes here but do yourself a favor and go to the original blog and read it in its entirety.

Three nuggets to take to heart:
  "Time is not infinite, and it goes by quickly. Don’t waste it. Don’t write crap, don’t put out stories that are forgettable or that you wouldn’t read if you weren’t the author, and don’t take your audience for fools. Their time is valuable. More than yours. They are paying for your work – you aren’t paying them. That makes them the customer, and you should hold your customer in high regard because without them, you’re nothing."
 "The story is not being able to release 10 books a year. The story is being able to release 10 books your readership thinks are good and thus sell well. Don’t confuse yourself, and don’t settle for good enough. There’s no such thing as good enough. There’s as good as you can possibly do, and nothing less."
  "The internet is filled with gurus who know nothing. It’s hard to turn around without bumping into a writing or self-publishing expert. Most of them are completely full of shit, and don’t sell many books – but that doesn’t stop them from trying to get you to part with your money to hear them tell you what you need to do to sell well."
In my personal opinion there are two kinds of writers: those who do it because they have a burning need to write, and those who want to make a living at it. If you want to make a living at it, you need to take it very seriously and listen to those who have come before, such as this gentleman. Yes, we all want to sell our books, we want readers who love our stuff, and we want our stories to reach as many folks as possible, otherwise why bother getting published? But for me, I look at my writing much like my practice and my life: I don't have to be number one in the world. I simply need to do my best and be happy in the present. I don't need all the trappings of the modern definition of success; in fact, the fewer gadgets, bells, and bling, the better. But that's simply my outlook on life. I think Mr. Russell here has some excellent advice and makes good points--but not all of them apply to me.

As a final note, remember: You don't have to follow anyone else's path. Advice is easy to come by; the trick is finding what applies to you and discarding what doesn't.  Mine the precious metal you prefer, be it gold, silver, or copper, and let the rest remain. Above all, enjoy the ride.

Happy Writing,

28 April 2014

My Writing Process

This is a round-robin post in a lovely idea for authors to share how they write. I was tagged by RWA (Florida) Regional Director Veronica Helen Hart. If you haven't read any of her award winning work, I highly suggest you check out Elena--the Girl With the Piano as well as her other books.

The game is on! I will tag another author at the end of my post and they will share their process next week on their blog. So here goes: 
  Finally, finally, I'm delving into the American Revolution with a tale based upon the real life of one of my fellow Welsh class members. George Chessman (his real name) was kidnapped on the streets of Glasgow and pressed into the British Navy, basically enslaved aboard ship. Once pressed, sailors such as he were never allowed to set foot ashore lest they escape for as long as the Navy deemed they were needed. The truth of what happened to him is fascinating, and I can tell you he did jump ship in Boston Harbor and hid in the surrounding maze of bogs and fens to elude capture. My fictionalization will fill in the exciting details, his relationships with the famous and infamous citizens of the Boston area, and his further adventures. Working title is No Man's Pawn.

  I love history. Always have. There is so much more to what happened than what the victors present in their accounts of battles and events. There is far, far more involved than just the dates /names they teach in school -- and it's usually a thousand times more interesting.
Here I am studying a map of Boston Commons in, well, Boston Commons (Photo by P. Bunch)

Think about this: some of the trees in the photo above were there during the entire upheaval, from the Stamp Act to the Tea Party to the blockade of Boston and throughout the War, continuing to grow and thrive even now. Imagine what they have seen, who they have heard whisper and plot beneath their branches... 

  I like to involve the senses and enrich the story with the context of the times. I try to write as people speak, such as when my Welshmen in the Dragon & Hawk series talked, they spoke English the way a Welsh person learning English as a second language would. It isn't exactly grammatically correct. I hope to share the interesting facts of the area and time period in a manner that immerses the reader without lecturing.

 I research quite a bit. For years, to be honest. I've been researching this one for the past four years, gathering information about the area, the people, and little known events. Unlike many writers, I have to go where I'm writing about. I have to physically walk those streets and hills, smell the sea, the harbor, the fens, the fires. Wood burned in New England is vastly different from what is burned in the desert southwest, and its smoke has a distinctive aroma. I've also been reading, reading, reading on the context of the times; all the attitudes and conflicts, not just of the people we've heard of but the laborers, farmers--and especially--the women. How were they affected? Did they really care about politics so much or were they sucked into the maelstrom as though a rip tide dragged them under?  Once I have all that down in copious notes, I organize the timeline of when everything occurred. 

I don't write in linear progression. I don't outline. I've tried and nearly lost my mind in frustration. I sit down and start with the scene that is uppermost in my thoughts (and dreams, because these people start nagging me in my sleep) and let 'er rip. Once I've exhausted what has haunted me, I go over everything and reorganize it into a plausible order arranging and rearranging. Then I edit, slashing out what doesn't work. Only after that do I start submitting it to different editors for consideration. 

So, for those of you who have wondered why the hell it takes me so long to write new books, here you go.


 Next up is fellow Tucson author, former police officer and animal trainer Alison Naomi Holt. She'll be posting her Writing Process next Monday, May 5th. You can check out her work in advance here:

Happy writing --and READING!

21 April 2014

Spring Transitions

This has been a beautiful spring in the desert. We had no real winter to speak of; only one or two nights of freezing temperatures, but that was it. None of the plants had time to go dormant. In fact, we did not prune any of the bushes we normally would. How that will play out through the summer remains to be seen.

Flowers are a wonder. Palo verde  (green stick) trees are loaded with tiny yellow blossoms, enough to make an entire hillside into a golden carpet. Cacti bloom now as well, from the pink buds on the prickly pear that open into yellow "desert roses" to the fleeting night-blooming cereus, whose petals open for a mere ten to twelve hours and are gone.

Prickly pear "roses" (the bud is pink)


     I think this cactus is a cereus --the bud showed up two days ago and started to open this morning; it will peak tonight and begin dying tomorrow morning.

Esperanza, a hummingbird's favorite

Our saguaros are sprouting buds already. Their white, waxy petals surround a egg-yolk yellow center when they open--and each blossom with its stem/pod weighs more than a pound. I'll post a photo when one opens soon.

That brings me to pollinators. Bees are vital, and we're happy to see them, even though most of the bees in Southern Arizona are now all Africanized and more aggressive. We simply take precautions to limit places for them to swarm close to the house-- plugging all holes in the stucco, capping exposed pipes or tubes. They can still swarm in trees, so if that happens we call the pros to remove them safely.
We <3 bees

My favorite pollinators here are the Mexican fruit bats which flit and flutter from saguaro to saguaro from dusk to dawn. They eat flying insects, too, making them good friends to humans. I've never been able to get a good photo of one.  Maybe this year I'll be lucky.

Happy spring to all, and Happy writing!


14 April 2014

Gathering Goodies

Previously I wrote about trying out Scrivener, a software program for writers. I've finally started playing with it this weekend to organize my research for a new historical. I'm not sure it's much help at this point; I'm still writing a timeline, synopsis, and ideas and putting them in a file. How is this different from what I did before? Scrivener promises I'll have this at my fingertips when I start writing. But I have my doubts that it is more efficient than the way I've worked before.

I love having books at hand to refer to--passages of information, reference notes, etc. I'm not going to copy these pages into Scrivener. Am I resisting learning a new software program just because it's different from what I've always done? Honestly, I'm not sure. Right now it seems like more prep work and less writing. I'll let you know how it progresses.

Happy writing,

08 April 2014

Hot off the Presses!

Somewhat unexpected but always welcome is the news a compilation of your short stories has been published. My three novellas involving ballroom dance--A Dangerous Dance, A Wicked Waltz and A Torrid Tango--are now available as one in ebook and print formats as Save The Last Dance. Exclusively from Amazon by Champagne Books.

Cover design by J.Ellen Smith

The story of a woman trapped in a loveless marriage and a man held hostage by contract, Save The Last Dance explores how two people destined to be together learn to stand alone before they dance off into the sunset. Tragic and funny, Maggie Pearce and John Hamilton are surrounded with all sorts of crazy characters, good and not so nice. Give it a whirl by the pool this spring, then write a review if you would. It's a fun spin around the dance floor. 

Happy reading!

17 March 2014

Best Lil Cowboy Ever.

Friday, March 21 is World Down Syndrome Awareness Day. 

This darling boy is the son of a very dear friend. Sara, an Arizona-born cowgirl embodies all the finest qualities of ranch gals. She trains horses with a gentle hand, teaches and counsels children, and hardly says a bad word about anyone. The worst I ever heard her say about a former boyfriend is, "He was not a very nice boy." Her husband Marty is also a kind man, takes all sorts of teasing from her friends (like me) with good humor, and has a great heart.

So when they had their first child, a boy who was diagnosed with Down Syndrome, their friends weren't sure how to respond. Everyone wants a perfectly healthy child. Everyone usually assumes two great people will have a great baby. Guess what? They have.

The Bug, as he is lovingly called, is a beautiful, happy boy. He has the best laugh in the world. (Well, second to my son's baby laugh. That was enchanted music, but I'm biased.) As Bug approaches his first birthday in May, he's reached those milestones every parent brags about or frets over: lifting his head, rolling over, sitting up, smiling, laughing, wriggling, crawling, getting into things, walking, burbling--oh, and did I mention getting into things?

This is a fortunate child to be born to loving parents who live in a tight-knit community of family and friends. We all know he'll face more challenges than average as he matures, but he will have a strong support system around him to help him learn to meet each obstacle and deal with it--in his own way and time. He will grow up in a ranching/farming environment, well-acquainted with dogs and horses, where the insane pressure of modern urban life is not as much of a factor as it could be. He'll face the incredible cruelties other children can inflict, as we all know will happen, but he'll also be surrounded with acceptance and encouragement in a way few people experience. I have no doubt The Bug will learn to achieve through determination, hard work, and love--just like his folks.

Down Syndrome is trisomy-21, a genetic anomaly of an extra of chromosome 21. Its effects can vary from severe (with multiple organic issues such as heart problems and other organ dysfunctions) to mild, with some facial effects and  slower than average cognitive learning. People born with Down Syndrome can lead rich, productive, independent lives--if given the chance and acceptance. There are more than a few young people with Down Syndrome who have made incredible achievements--way above any average. To learn more, and read about these remarkable men and women, please take a moment to check out The National Down Syndrome Society page.

02 March 2014

Foray into Children's Books

Uh-oh. I've gone and done it now. I collaborated on a children's book with a crazed Aussie. Walkabout Willie / Mucky Karms is one book of two tales for children, perfect for reading at bedtime or for those who already read independently. There are blank pages to draw one's own illustrations.

Walkabout Willie recounts the Grand Adventure of a wombat who wandered farther than he ever thought he could. My good friend from Down Under, Marg Brassington, shared this story with me quite some time ago. It's a fun tale with different animals from Australia involved, illustrated with original drawings by Marg herself. I've added a few here and there as well.

Mucky Karms is a fantasy I used to tell my son every night at bedtime. It grew and grew into a saga of staggering silliness which I have substantially edited for publication. Lorcan the Leprechaun is certain the Witch in the Deepest, Darkest part o' the Forest has stolen his pot o' gold. He tricks a unicorn into giving him a ride and soon learns being mean isn't the best way to accomplish a goal.

Right now, when you purchase a print copy from Amazon, you can add a Kindle version for only 99 cents.

I will have print copies of this book available at the Tucson Festival of Books, Saturday, March 15 and Sunday, March 16.
I will be with Gecko Gals Ink in Booth #112, which is right near the southern end of the Arizona Daily Star pavilion. Those who purchase Walkabout Willie / Mucky Karms  will receive extra goodies with each edition! I'll be at the booth all day, both days from 9AM through 5 PM, so please come by and say "G'day, mate."

11 February 2014

Wild West Welsh Cowboyos!

Yeehaw! It's the Cowboy Casanova Giveaway Hop to celebrate everything we love about hunky romantic cowboys. Thanks to fellow Western romance author Lily Graison for inviting me to join in the fun! Living in the desert Southwest, land of ranches, ropin', and rodeos, I've captured some of the endearing traits of the iconic cowboys we all know and love from the movies and mixed some of that fantasy with reality in my "Welsh-tern" trilogy, Dragon & Hawk.

My "oil painting" rendition of Evan
Evan Jones is an immigrant from Wales who longs to go home. Like many of his countrymen, he
came to America to work in mining. But the boyo hates being underground, and embarks on a series of  adventures that not only nearly get him killed but open his eyes to a world he never expected to appreciate.

What I love best about Evan is he's far from perfect. He's a bit of a dolt, talks too much, isn't above cheatin' at cards, is blind to what's right under his nose, but he has a heart as large as the Western sky. Sometimes he communicates more clearly with his horse than with the women he encounters, but once he's hooked, it's for life. He's fiercely loyal, and loves deeply, soulfully. There is no length he won't go to for those who matter most to him, whether his brothers or the woman who captures his heart.

    Velvet Ass Rose, Madam of the Diamond Emporium, smiled graciously as she stopped beside
Evan and bussed his cheek. "Good to see you again, Evan. Alton tells me you have a new one for us tonight?"
    She was resplendent in purple velvet and sequins, a red ostrich plume in her hair. Evan liked the way she smelled of rose soap and lavender and crisp sheets. Her thick dark hair was swept up and showed off a lovely ivory neck. A stunner, certain sure, she ran the Diamond Emporium with flair. Evan found beauty and sharp thinking in one package most alluring. He enjoyed her company, even when he'd finished. If he'd had more money, he'd have treated himself that night as well.
    "Madame Rose, may I present my baby brother, Huw?" Evan said proudly. "He's nineteen and the day, a bit behind in learning the ways of romance."
     "Evan!" Huw's red face matched Rose's plume.
   She threw her head back and laughed freely, the sound like a joyous silver bell. "Romance, is it? Well, young friend, welcome to the Diamond Emporium School of Romance."
     "I'm thinkin' you'd choose a suitable, patient teacher for him. He'll need lots of guidance, probably need to repeat a lesson—or two." Evan chuckled, patted Huw's shoulder.
     "I have the perfect schoolmarm for you, honey," Velvet Ass Rose said. "Gentled many a colt, teaching the ins and outs of gait, so to speak. Here now, I'll take you there myself." She turned toward the staircase, signaling for Huw to follow. "Well?" she asked, amused at Huw's open mouthed shyness. "Don't just stand there gawking, sweetie, come!"

     "No doubt he will, Rose," Evan called after them. "No doubt at all!"
My Giveaway:
For readers in the US/Canada:  
A paperback edition of Book One, Dragon & Hawk 
a Western goodie bag of Cowgirl bubble bath, cowboy stickers, and sundry Arizona treats!

OR for readers outside the US: 
A PDF edition of the complete trilogy:  
 Dragon & Hawk, Out of Forgotten Ashes, and Dragon's Legacy

How to win? Post a comment here WITH YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS
[leave it in this format so spammers don't get it: MyEmail AT whatever DOT com]
 Fritzgerald The Bastard Cat of Tombstone will bite a name at random.

Don't forget to check out the rest of the Cowboy Casanova Hop!

09 February 2014

Love-Struck Valentine’s Day Hop!

LoveStruckValentine's Day Hop Homepage
Welcome to Jude's spot on the Love-Struck Valentine's Day Hop! It's time to celebrate romance and stories of love, heartbreak, and happy endings. Today's Grand Prize is a Kindle Paperwhite eReader with 43 books provided by all the Hop Authors, so enter at the Hop Homepage. Go do it NOW.

I'll wait...

All right! Welcome back! Let's talk romance. Historians believe that the English word "romance" developed from a vernacular dialect within the French language meaning "verse narrative"—referring to the style of speech, writing, and artistic talents within elite classes. The word was originally an adverb of the Latin origin "Romanicus," meaning "of the Roman style." The connecting notion is that European medieval vernacular tales were usually about chivalric adventure, not combining the idea of love until late into the seventeenth century.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romance_%28love%29
 Tales of chivalry, action, adventure, and heroism are technically "Romantic", as is music by Beethoven,  Schubert, Tchaikovsky, and others we consider "classical."

For me, writing stories that are Romantic means to include an element of danger and adventure, even in a contemporary setting involving ballroom dancing. My Save The Last Dance series involves two people destined to be together who face more than a few obstacles in their path. Overcoming the fear of ending a bad relationship can involve the possibility of physical danger, whether from an abusive spouse or someone else. "Will they get together?" isn't so much the question as "How in the world will they make it work?" For Maggie Pearce and John Harrison, those few moments of soulful connection are worth braving the obstacles thrown in their way.

Now for Fun Schtuff!
My Giveaway!
US readers: A Giftie pack of Champagne Bath pearls, Champagne Books keychain, a CD of awesome music that inspired my Save The Last Dance series, and other sundry goodies!
OR Outside the US: $10 Amazon.com Gift card 
  All you have to do is post a comment on this blog with your email address. [Leave it in this form so spammers don't get it: My email AT whatever DOT com
A name will drawn at random Saturday February 15th at noon Pacific Time.


Your mission is to continue HOPPING to the participating blogs. Most will offer their own prizes just like I did here; all have wonderful stories to share. So hop your buns around the Interwebs and gather what you may. Just click on an author's name to get to their Blog Hop post--and DON'T FORGET TO ENTER THE GRAND PRIZE GIVEAWAY AT JA GARLAND'S HOME PAGE:

Celia Breslin    Pippa Jay   Mimi Sebastian   Cecilia Dominic 
  Isabella Norse   Dani Harper   Rita Bay   Allison Knight   Joyce Proell  Holly Hunt   Ceci Giltenan   Ute Carbone 
Cassiel Knight   Audra Middleton   Angela Kay Austin  Morgan Wyatt  Liz Crowe   Susan Frances      January Bain   Linda Rettstatt   Dani Collins  Kelly Martin  Pauline Creeden 
                      Christina Cole   Graeme Brown

Wishing everyone a romantic and blissful Happy Valentine's Day!