Saturday, November 23, 2013

November 22, 1963 -- November 22, 2013

 President Kennedy's Grave
with the Lincoln Memorial in the background
   I knew this year would be worse than last year or eleven years ago or forty-three years ago. I knew the media would fill the days leading to my birthday with questions and comments and constant reprise of the Zapruder film. That's right. My birthday.
   Sometimes Thanksgiving falls on my birthday, but the anniversary of President Kennedy's murder always falls on my birthday.
   November 22, 1963, my sixteenth birthday. My world was already dangerous. We were in the middle of the Cold War. My best friend's father had flown in the Berlin Airlift several years before and we had been afraid a Third World War would start then. President Kennedy had threatened the Soviet Union if they did not remove their missiles from Cuba. And we had been afraid of nuclear war then. Women's magazines had recipes and diets and articles about home bomb shelters. We had tornado drills at school and bomb drills.
   Fear was already a backdrop for my life. But like other almost-sixteen-year-olds, backdrops are just that. Mind catching each time they change, but quickly moved to the background as the activities of  life took center stage. And each time the scary moment passed, somehow my sense of security was recovered and all the dangers of the world receded.
   And then a man murdered President Kennedy. An English-speaking, white American whom I would not have recognized as different from my neighbors or me had I met him on November 21, 1963. And he did it in Dallas, Texas, a city more like my Oklahoma City than any other major American city. It was too close to home. It would not recede into any background.
   The murder of President Kennedy was the end of my sense of security, just as Pearl Harbor must have been the end of my parents' and the murder of President Lincoln must have been for Walt Whitman's generation and the burning of Washington, D.C., must have been for the young people of the War of 1812.
   Each of us must surely come to the realization that the concept of 'security' is false. That the concept of ideal is illusion. For me it came with the assassination of JFK. For my son it was probably the Oklahoma City bombing. For my daughter, fifteen years younger than my son, it was September 11. I don't know what it will be for my grandchildren, but it will surely happen. And the event will be just as shocking and just as threatening. It will not recede into a backdrop but become the next layer of tragedy on which our human condition rises.
   For every tragedy that reminds us how fragile and flawed we humans are, there are countless triumphs. The English burned our capital city, but with each generation we come closer to achieving a class-free society. And truly, so do those English and the rest of the world. President Lincoln was murdered and freedom and equality for all may have been delayed, but with each generation we come closer. And Pearl Harbor did not begin the end of human civilization, but began the end of another in the list of tyrants who would subjugate humanity. A long list that each generation faces.
   I gave up on security and ideals a long time ago. Fifty years ago, to be precise. But I do not give up on humanity. And hope is a great replacement for security.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

On Re-reading The Wheel of Time

I do not have a history as a re-reader of fiction. Nonfiction, certainly. But there the point of re-reading is obvious. To check a date, to confirm a fact, to pursue a deeper understanding. But fiction? I do not feel the need to recheck fictional facts or fictional dates. And, for that matter, if I didn’t understand it the first time through, I only read it because of some obsessive-compulsive need to complete the damned book once I started it and I surely was not going to start it again. There are too many good novels out there and too little time. And I have not historically considered fantasy very high in that endless list of good novels.

But something is different about The Wheel of Time. The first time I read it, I was in such a hurry to find out what happened next that I missed the construction of the plot. I did not consciously appreciate the character development. I was only dimly aware of the author drawing me into an addictive relationship.

The story-line is straight forward. The hero grows to young adulthood in The Two Rivers, a simple agrarian society. An egalitarian culture that respected work and common sense. Where social status was determined by an individual’s contribution to the community. A narrow society that had little contact with the wider world. The hero and his hometown friends are pulled away from their comforting and comprehensible way of life and thrown into the fascinating, exciting, and always dangerous rest of the world.

The fourteen volumes of the series add up to one long chase scene. The author chivvies us along as the characters flee certain death or chase dangerous villains. From battle to battle with no time to rest, until we miss our reasonable bedtimes and delay our real-world duties. Until we get to Tarmon Gai'don, the final battle, and find out if the good guy wins and preserves The Wheel of Time and saves the whole world.

Simple. Typical American, Abe Lincoln story. No high-born hero necessary.

But the plot. It’s only during this re-reading that I appreciate the true superhero of this story. It’s the author, Robert Jordan. Not only did he construct a coherent world, invent characters in numbers of which Cecil B. De Mille would have boasted, and imagine more daring exploits and dire circumstances than I can comprehend (even after having experienced them vicariously during the first read through) but he got me to read fourteen volumes of fantasy.

His characters are introduced in the first book. So many that during my first reading I forgot their names and their faces until they appeared again and again throughout the story. Now as I read, I remember what they will do, who they will prove to be. I see how the author has drawn them in 3D and full-color. It’s no wonder I cared so much about them.

Their own individual stories weave and wind, over, around, and through each other. When I read it before, I would be frustrated when Jordan left whatever character we were following to follow another. And then again, when he would leave that character to follow yet another. And then again and again, until they came together only to move apart again. A dance of stories, sometimes a stately minuet, but more often, a square dance that I would have to follow without a caller to say what the next movement would be.

This time, I do not worry about what will happen next. I watch the intricate steps and recognize the changes in rhythm. I see the story as though it were a dear friend’s face, at once familiar. And still intriguing as the light plays across angles and planes reflecting all manner of thought and emotion.

When asked in the past to name my favorite novel, I would say John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. But I think now I must say The Wheel of Time is my favorite novel, though it be fourteen books long.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Portrait of a Writer





Spoiler alert! I tell how my novel Murder on Ceres ends.
   It's been a long time coming, but I am a writer. What did it take? A novel.

   I've been writing since the Third Grade. In those days it was short fiction and poetry. I didn't know I was writing short fiction. It was just stories. But I knew when I wrote poetry because it rhymed. My teachers were always supportive. When the weather outside was too cold or too rainy we stayed indoors during recess and the teacher read my stories. My status among my peers was guaranteed--writing and tether ball.

   There was never a suggestion that I should submit my work for publication. I don't think anyone I knew had any personal experience with the publishing world. In fact, I was a Senior in High School before I met anyone who'd been published. I don't remember his name, but I remember listening to him talk about a story he'd had accepted by a major magazine. Playboy, actually. Such an exotic publication. Not available over the counter in my small Oklahoma town. And then he said that of the national magazines that published fiction, they paid the most money. Money? How cool was that! Of course not even he envisioned quiting his day job. He was the editor of the local newspaper. Journalism, however, did not qualify as writing as far as I was concerned. After all I wrote for our school newspaper and later for that same small-town, twice a week newspaper.

   But I came to understand there were writers actually living and working in the real world, right then.

   College expanded my world exponentially. I went to poetry readings. They read famous long dead poets like William Shakespeare and Emily Dickenson. They read recently dead poets like e. e. cummings. Antiwar poets like Amy Lowell from my grandfathers' war. And their own antiwar poetry from our own war. And sometimes it rhymed, but more often not. Somehow poets did not qualify in my mind as writers. After all I could and did write poetry.

   My resume became an amalgam of the American working life--office worker, newspaper reporter/photographer/editor, welfare caseworker,  fast-food store manager, oil field hand, etc., etc., ad infinitum. I took up saying I was preparing for a career as a writer or a stand-up comedian.
   Well now I've done it. I completed the first draft of a novel.

   Murder on Ceres  takes place in the future when the center of civilization is located on the many colonies off Mars. Humans continue their exploration and exploitation of the universe. They choose their own evolution. They live longer, healthier lives. Nations and wars of nationalism are things of the past. But, for all their progress, humans are still humans and murder happens.
   My hero, Rafe Sirocco, a newly-minted police detective investigates his first murder. Dedication to his job endangers his marriage, the lives of his young wife and their unborn child, and, in the end, his own life.
   And how does this who-done-it come out? I typed these final words.

"The   End"
   And became a writer.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Trapped on the Highway

This short piece of fiction received Honorable Mention in the Flash Fiction competition at Rose State Writing Short Course, September 27, 2013.
Two days. There’s no way.

I was supposed to be at Uncle Henry’s funeral Tuesday. Aunt Jenny’s going to get everything. He never liked her, but he said you had to be there to inherit. Can’t say I ever liked her much either.

I can’t just sit here.

Millions down the drain.

Listen to that ass. Why doesn’t he just shut up. What’s he got to complain about? He’s four cars and a stock truck ahead of me. Upwind of that damn farmer. He doesn’t have to smell those animals. Why are stock trucks even allowed on public highways?

And when they dropped food and water, didn’t he get as much as anybody? Probably more than I got. Two days. Guess I should be grateful it hasn’t been hot or I’d smell like that farmer’s dumb animals. “Dumb.” That’s a joke. Nothing silent about them. I’ve got something in the glove box for them and that guy up ahead of them, too.

Screaming? Now what? Where’s that coming from? The car behind me? No. Two cars back. Some woman. Looks like she’s pregnant. That’s all we need. Probably in labor. Why is she even out in this? Some people make no provisions for themselves.

What? A helicopter?

Taking someone out, you say? Probably the pregnant woman. Normal, healthy people get shunted aside. Told to be quiet. Take what we’re given and be satisfied.

That is the biggest damn cop I’ve ever seen. What’s he saying? Me? He’ll help me?

I tell him this is a dangerous situation.

“Yes, Ma’am. It is. May I have the gun, please?”

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Broken Bicycle


Grace and I are in Midwest City, Oklahoma, for the Rose State writing conference. So how do we pass the time before Opening Ceremonies?  We do a writing exercise. The prompt: You wake up by the side of the road lying next to a bicycle with no memory and no wallet. What happens in the next hour?   Page 52 from 642 Things to Write About.
   “Hey, mister.”
   The funny little man seems to be talking to me.
   “What’s your name?” he asks.
   My name. Odd, but I can’t think what my name is. I think it’s something common like Bill or John. I don’t know.
   “That’s my bicycle you know.”
   He’s glaring at me like I’ve done something wrong. Actually I didn’t know it was his bicycle. What do I care whose bicycle it is?
   He’s shaking the mangled bike at me. “Look at that.”
   I can see it’s broken. What has that got to do with me? My head hurts.
   “You’re responsible.” His face is as red as his hair.
   “Look. I’m really sorry.” What else can I say? I don’t know how I’m responsible. I’ll give him a few bucks to fix the damn thing. It looks old anyway. Well, shit. My wallet’s gone.
Maybe he’ll let me catch it tomorrow. “I’m sorry.”
   “You said that already. I want to know what you’re going to do about it.”
   He looks threatening. Like someone less than five feet tall can look threatening. And wearing bright green pants? I don’t think so.
   “Don’t laugh at me, mister,” he says.
   Maybe he is dangerous.
   “No. No, of course not.” I need to sit down. My head really hurts and I think I’m going to be sick. It doesn’t seem funny to me either.
   “Do you see that kettle?” He’s pointing at an old iron kettle. Not huge, but maybe a three-gallon size.
   “Yes,” I say. “It’s broken, too.”
   “I know it’s broken, too,” he says and clouds up like he’s going to cry.
   In fact, the sky has clouded up, too.
   He sits next to me and blubbers, “The gold’s all gone.”
   “I’m sorry,” I say. And I really am, but I don’t know what he’s talking about. I really don’t.
   And the next thing I know lights are flashing and this big guy in a uniform is bent over me asking, “What’s your name?”
Check out Graces take on this writing prompt at

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Broken Plates

Grace and I are at it again. Here is the writing prompt we used today. From page 260 in 642 Things to Write About. Start a story with the line "My mother broke every plate in the house that day."
   My mother broke every plate in the house that day.
   Not every one. She didn't break the commemorative ones that hang on the wall in the dining room. You know, the one of the Methodist Church built in 1915 and the one with a picture of the Bad Lands in South Dakota. None of those.
   But all of the ones we ate on. The ones my grandmother gave us. Not Momma's mother. Dad's mother.
   They were pretty plates. They had roses on them. And the cups were lovely. Small with a pedestal on the bottom. Dad always complained about those little cups. He said you couldn't get more than a mouthful in them and that got cold before you could drink it.
   Ever the peacekeeper, Momma would refill his cup and say, "But your mother worked hard to get us these."
   There was nothing he could say to that. Grandma did work hard. But, she never had much money.
    That day, in the middle of the afternoon, I found Momma and Grandma sitting in the living room. They watched Days of Our Lives while the dining room looked like a hurricane hit. White bits of china blanketed the floor like hail--a tiny red rose here and there.
   And those two women in front of the TV as calm as could be. I always thought my mother loved those dishes that Grandma gave her. Add to that the fact that Momma hated the sound of breaking glass worse than thunder. And I'd never seen Grandma just sit when anything needed cleaning up. I was afraid to imagine what was going on. 
   "Sit here Rosie, darlin'," my Grandma said to me patting the couch between her and Momma. "I won the Powerball today. Your Momma can have any dishes she wants."

Check out Grace's response to this prompt: Click  here

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Celebrity Writers

Do you know who this is?
   He's a celebrity author. He is one of the "world’s bestselling and critically acclaimed thriller writers" according to the publisher Simon and Schuster who's coming out with an anthology of stories from 23 thriller authors next year.
   Admittedly my sense of celebrity seems not to fit that of our general society. I have little interest in athletes or entertainers. Though I can admire the feats of a Michael Jordan or a Maggie Smith, I can't say that I would go out of my way to sit next to them at dinner. Though to be at table where they sat next to each other might be interesting.
   Celebrity writers, on the other hand, I would go out of my way to sit next to at dinner or at the same table or in the same hall. Wouldn't it be grand to listen to Ken Follett and hear him say in person that he did not sell his first novel nor indeed, his tenth? If he who has written so many good books and been so often published did not sell his first one then there is hope for me. And J.K. Rowling whose Harry Potter series was rejected by umpteen publishing houses before Scholastic picked it up, then my Rafael Sirocco series has a chance.
   Okay, for those two celebrities, it's more about me.
   Sometimes my admiration is for writers who have lived through and written about history that I'm interested in. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s novels are among the best in American fiction, but for me his celebrity status comes from his own life experiences. He was a World War II prisoner of war held in Dresden, Germany, during the Allies' bombing and subsequent firestorm there. Later, his work with PEN International to focus attention on the plight of writers being persecuted in their own countries.
   Maya Angelou is in this same category of celebrity writers because of whom she had known--from famous leaders in our country's civil rights movement to unknowns in that same struggle. I get a thrill every time I drive through Stamps, Arkansas, because I know she lived there as a child.
   Then there are some of my favorite authors--John Irving, Robert Jordan, John Lescroart (That's his photo, by the way.) Diane Mott Davidson, Donna Leon, Patrick O'Brien. These are the writers I come back to time and again. Not because they feel like celebrities to me. I'm not even particularly interested in meeting them. It's their characters that I would like to spend time with, talk to, or just admire in person.
   I would like to know:
   John Wheelwright, best friend to John Irving's Owen Meany, from A Prayer for Owen Meany my favorite novel. It's about growing up. It's about friendship. It's about living with disability and mortality.
    Egwene, the country girl who becomes the head of the greatest institution in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time world. She is only one of literally a world of characters with whom I would gladly spend time. Well, all except the truly scary villains and terrifying creatures. Those can stay on the pages of the book.
   Dismas Hardy and Abe Glitsky and their families from John Lescroart's San Francisco based crime novels. Beginning with the first of these novels we meet these people and follow them as they build their lives together. Maybe we could all meet at Lou the Greek's for lunch.
   Goldie Bear from Diane Mott Davidson's culinary mysteries. We follow Goldie and her best friend (who happens to share the same abusive ex-husband whom they both refer to as 'the jerk') and Goldie's son as they get involved in murder mystery after murder mystery. Goldie does meet and marry a Colorado, sheriff's detective named Schultz. Nice man. Nice country, since that's where I live. Goldie is a caterer so naturally there are recipes included, most of which I've tried in my own kitchen.
   Commissario Guido Brunetti from Donna Leon's murder mysteries set in Venice, Italy. This  policeman knows the vicissitudes of the Italian justice system but works to solve crimes and bring the bad guys to some kind of reckoning anyway. He loves and respects his wife. The stories don't always have an ending that satisfies my just-desserts sensibilities, but they feel real and I understand Brunetti's cynicism. Couldn't we have a great discussion about right and wrong?
   Patrick O'Brian's Jack Aubrey from Master and Commander and the other books in this series that follow the British navalman through the Napoleonic wars. And let me just say Jack was hot in the books before the movie folk cast Russell Crowe to play him in the movie version. I might even flirt a bit.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Three Writing Styles

STYLES of Writing SOUNDS & Silence

I have always read a wide variety of material, generally with little discrimination. I was as happy with David McCullough’s histories as with Colleen McCullough’s historical fiction. I eagerly read Charles Dickens and J. K. Rowling. Margaret Atwood and John Lescroart both kept me on tenterhooks.
Now that I, too, write, I am no more choosy about my reading, but I am more analytical. This summer I went from Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander, a naval novel set in the early 1800’s. To a repeat reading of Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World, Volume One of his epic fantasy The Wheel of Time. To Cormack McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, the first in his Borderland Trilogy. Three very different ways to present sound and silence.

From O’Brian this excerpt:
‘Why does he not fire?’ thought Jack. The Desaix’s bow-chasers had been silent these twenty minutes. Indeed, by now she was in musket-shot, and the people in her bows could easily be told from one another: seamen, marines, officers—one man had a wooden leg. ‘By God, he’s going to riddle us with grape.’
…the Desaix began to yaw. She answered her helm as quickly as a cutter, and in three heartbeats there were her thirty-seven guns coming round to bear. The broadside’s roar and the fall of the Sophie’s main top gallant mast and fore topsail yard came almost together—in the thunder a hail of blocks, odd lengths of rope, splinters, the tremendous clang of a grape-shot striking the Sophie’s bell; and then a silence.

And from Jordan:
The back door creaked as someone outside, or something, tried to push it open. His mouth went dry. A crash shook the door in its frame and lent him speed; he slipped through the window like a hare going to ground, and cowered against the side of the house. Inside the room, wood splintered like thunder.
At first when the trees surrounded him, he took comfort from them. They helped hide him from Whatever the creatures were that had attacked the farm. As he crept through the woods, though, moon shadows shifted, and it began to seem as if the darkness of the forest changed and moved, too. Trees loomed malevolently; branches writhed toward him. He could almost hear the growling chuckles stifled in their throats while they waited for him. The howls of Tam’s pursuers no longer filled the night, but in the silence that replaced them he flinched every time the wind scraped one limb against another. He  hardly dared to breathe for fear he might be heard.

Then I read McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses.
Rawlins stood in the door of the kitchen and studied him.
You look like you been rode hard and put up wet, he said.
They sat at the table and ate. Rawlins leaned back and fished his tobacco out of his shirtpocket.
I keep waitin for you to unload your wagon, he said. I got to go to work here in a few minutes.
I just come up to see you.
What about.
It don’t have to be about something does it?
No. Dont have to. He popped a match on the underside of the table and lit his cigarette and shook out the match and put it in his plate.
I hope you know what you’re doin, he said.
John Grady drained the last of his coffee and put the cup on his plate along with the silver. He got his hat from the bench beside him and put it on and stood up to take his dishes to the sink.
Rawlins watched him go to the sink and watched him go to the door. He thought he might turn and say something else but he didn’t.

It was not the absence of an apostrophe here and there that most affected me about McCarthy’s work. Having just read O’Brian’s decorous and abundant language describing sea battles in the Napoleonic Wars with their hundreds of men crowded on ships amid smoke and thunderous cannon fire, I then read Jordan’s graphic descriptions of combat with fantastical, ravening creatures in a world where silence and darkness battered me as harshly as the sounds of raging battles.
And finally I read McCarthy, with whom I was unfamiliar. My reaction to the change in styles was sensory. I felt as if I had been struck partially deaf. He wrote a world where sounds and people are as spare and sparse as the nearly barren dry lands of the West Texas-Mexico borderlands. McCarthy led me through hot, open country, with few people and them slow to speak their few words. A country of far distances and vast silences.
Three very different writers using words printed on paper to build worlds of sounds and silences in my head.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Blog Hop

Thanks to Grace Wagner for tagging me.

1:  What is the working title of your book?
Murder on Ceres

2: Where did the idea come from for the book?
My favorite genres are mystery and science fiction. Diane Mott Davidson’s mysteries were my especial favorites. Her characters are believable and engaging. Her violence is done almost gently. For science fiction, I am drawn to Isaac Asimov. He provides believable, thought-provoking science.
I wanted to present humans as I think they are likely to be no matter the technological advances of the future. I want my characters to be accepted as real people by the reader. And I want my characters to realistically live in what is to them the normal universe.

3: What genre does your book come under?
Murder on Ceres is a natural cross-over, a traditional mystery set in the future.

4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I’ve never thought of my characters as being like this or that actor. I will leave that up to the movie people, should it ever come to that.
No doubt, Rafe as the hero will be young and handsome; Terren as his wife will be tall and beautiful; Joe, the sidekick, will be older and ruggedly attractive. Mark, the antagonist, will be mature and charming. TePaki, the pirate will be tattooed and threatening.

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
In a time when Mars is the center of humanity and Earth is literally the Old World, humans will still be humans and murder happens.

6: Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agent?
I am seeking an agent.

7: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Almost three years.

8: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Vernor Vinge’s Rainbow’s End successfully marries science and character. His people seem perfectly normal and live normally in their very different world.

9: Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Carl Sagan is the who.
“Exploration is in our nature. We began as wanderers, and we are wanderers still. We have lingered long enough on the shores of the cosmic ocean. We are ready at last to set sail for the stars.” Cosmos
I believe out-migration from Earth is the inevitable and necessary next step for our species.

10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Our hero must solve a murder and bring the murderer or murderers to justice. He must survive professional and personal disasters, some natural and some man-made, from the lovely pearl that is the asteroid Ceres through the vastness of space to the beautiful blue marble that is Earth.

Tagging more Writers:
This I cannot do without permission. So if you are interested in joining in, give me a shout and we’ll do it.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing

Joss Whedon is to Shakespeare as Russell Crowe is to musical villainy.  They’re both good. The latter does Javert with brute force, and he can sing. The former plays Much Ado About Nothing with agility and slapstick and only a little bit of song.
I think Wm. S. would be pleased with Whedon’s take on Much Ado. He used the bard’s original language. Albeit almost an hour short of using all the words. Probably a nod to saving money and not over-taxing our modern audience’s ubiquitous short attention span. Little is lost in this condensed version. You do have to adjust to listening as well as looking. We have become so used to being assaulted by the sights and sounds of so many of our movies that we automatically tune out the overload. In this film you do not want to tune anything out. Much of the humor and the sorrow is in the dialogue and you don’t want to miss it.
The best part about that original language is that Whedon had them speak the words sensibly and normally as though they would be understandable to our modern ears rather than to pontificate because they were written by the great and glorious Bard of Avon. And by so doing, our modern ear had no trouble understanding them. There aren't even any British accents.
Doing the film in black and white was a surprise. Surely the play was originally done live and in full-color.
In fact, Shakespeare was originally pop culture in an age when they had bull-baiting and bear-baiting in the same theater on the off-nights. For the play nights they just put sand and sawdust over the blood and gore and sold tickets to all and sundry, the great unwashed as well as the landed gentry. Actually, in old Bill’s time, pretty much everyone was unwashed. So it was probably produced live, in color, and full-scented.
I am pleased to say that I enjoyed Whedon’s film production amid the scent of popcorn.
Although this Much Ado is set in today’s world with today’s fashions and conveniences, it retains the mores of turn of the century England. That’s the 17th Century.
Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon, sets out to orchestrate the lives of his subjects. He will arrange the marriage of young adherent Claudio to ingĂ©nue Hero. And hook-up his old friend Benedict, a dedicated misogynist, with Benedict’s long-time antagonist Beatrice.
Although the young couple are ostensibly the lead roles, it is the wit wielded now like cudgels and then like rapiers by Beatrice and Benedict that make this play my favorite of Shakespeare’s comedies.
The prince’s evil brother Don John nearly destroys the young people’s lives. It is here that the serious intolerance of Shakespeare’s time comes to the fore.

But Don John is only a very small part. Shakespeare was a master of making the dark, darker by flashing a beam of light in the form of broad humor. Here he uses Don John’s henchmen to set in motion what is my favorite scene in the movie. They are interrogated by the prince’s security team lead by that bumbling-cop character Dogberry played to perfection by Nathan Fillian.
Put away the dusty teachings of that old high school English teacher and go see this production. Shakespeare’s plays were never intended to be read piece-meal and badly in high school classrooms. They were not intended to be read at all. Who reads Harold Pinter or Neil Simon? Plays are for watching. On the screen or on the stage.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Prompt:  Begin a story describing only two hands. Use the physical characteristics of the hands, as well as any relevant activity or movement, gesture, fidgeting, and so on, to reveal who the hands belong to.

“I don’t know what’s wrong.” She held her hands palms up, helpless.
“When did it start?” His right hand hesitated over the keyboard.
She touched her slender index finger to her pursed lips, thinking. Her fingernails, well-tended and cut short, shone the palest pink in the florescent light. “It’s worse now.”
He keyed her answer into the computer, the nail on his ring finger chipped and discolored.
She covered her eyes with her left hand. “I can’t keep going like this.” No wedding band, no adornment at all. The skin smooth, well past the dimples of childhood but not yet bereft of the tissue that precludes wrinkles.
He rested his hand on the counter. His sun-browned skin as free of jewelry as hers. He made notes. “Can you describe the sound you heard?”
“A terrible screeching noise.” She clenched both fists and drew her shoulders toward her ears remembering.
“Could you tell where it was coming from?” He touched the keys, his delicate movements at odds with his beefy hands, the broad pads of his fingers.
“No. It was dark and . . . .” Her hand fluttered above the counter, fingers gracefully curved. “I was alone and . . . .”
He covered her hand with his own for the briefest of moments, reassuring her.

“Not to worry. It’s probably the fan belt.”

To see my daughter's response to this prompt cllick

Monday, July 22, 2013

Fantasy Series

Cover Art from Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World

I remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard about the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, President Kennedy’s murder in 1963, Senator Kennedy’s murder in 1968, the Edmond Post Office murders in 1986, the Murrah Federal Building Bombing in 1995, and 9/11 in 2001. Having grown up and lived most of my life in the Oklahoma City area, the Edmond Post Office and Murrah Building were parts of my daily life. I passed the post office on my way to work each morning and our credit union was in the Murrah Building. Each of these events shook my world, shifted my world view.
And then one day in September 2007, I was driving north on I-35 with my daughter, then a Freshman at Oklahoma University. The car radio was tuned to KGOU our Public Radio Station. Suddenly my daughter started screaming and beating on the dashboard. When she told me why, it made no sense. Some writer named Robert Jordan died. I had no idea who Robert Jordan was. She explained about his epic fantasy series. His unfinished epic fantasy series, eleven volumes of which she had read and loved and reread in anticipation of the final installment.
Being naturally commitment-averse, I made it a rule never to read serialized novels. Nonfiction in multiple volumes I’ve always been comfortable with. Who can cover the Civil War in a single volume?
Fantasy? Also, not happening. I don’t easily suspend disbelief, so the minute something supernatural comes on the scene, my mind begins to wander and the book languishes beside my bed or under it.
And I never reread works of fiction. There are too many good books out there and I don’t have enough time to read them all as it is.
There were noteworthy exceptions to my policies of no fantasy series and single read-throughs. Tolkien’s Trilogy of the Rings, which I read to please a husband. I still have the books, but not that husband. And Rowling’s seven-book Harry Potter series which I read to please my daughter. Happily I still have both the books and the daughter.
Jordan, however, was not a blip on any radar as far as I was concerned. And as of the day of his death, never would be.
Today I am one-third of the way through Eye of the World, the first in what was to become Jordan’s fourteen-book series The Wheel of Time. The final three volumes were written by Brandon Sanderson. And this will be my third time through the series from beginning to end. Plus rereads of the later volumes in anticipation of each new release.
Why The Wheel of Time? To be honest, I thought I’d never enjoy another fantasy after The Lord of the Rings. I tried a couple and was not impressed.
I believed Tolkien’s world, complete with his Orcs and Ents. Then I came to believe Rowling’s world and Jordan’s, with their Hogwarts and Quiddich and Aes Sedai and Tarmon Gai'don. In each and every one of these books, characters from unremarkable backgrounds lead their people against the forces of darkness and win. Characters I got to know and care about, thrown into intolerable situations, attempting impossible goals, and succeeding.
Some days, my real world feels threatened by darkness on an epic scale and I need to believe there are real people from whatever backgrounds who can and will stand up when we need them.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Writing Prompt: My favorite song

Last year my daughter Grace and I each got a copy of this book. A wonderful way to practice writing. We choose a prompt, write, then read them aloud. There's a link at the end of this post to Grace's story. See how she responded to the prompt.

Prompt:  Write a story based on the title of your favorite song.

I’ve missed you. It’s been a long time. Probably seems longer than it’s really been, but long enough.
When you left, it was supposed to be just for a while. A week. Two at the most. But then things happened. There was a baby and your grandfather died. I understand all that.
But then it seemed you might not want to come home.
I got called away, too. Then I was busy and didn’t think about the separation. That’s what I’ve started calling it—the separation.
When I get home now, the house seems empty. Like it’s been empty a long time. It doesn’t smell like you anymore. Your minty Altoids, fresh brewed coffee, a hint of tobacco smoke. Your deodorant.
Today I went in to the office at the regular time, but couldn’t face coming home again. Worked over. Stopped for a drink. Went to the movies. Late. Very late.
I came home to a dark living room. Lights flickered toward the back of the house. In the kitchen.
And flowers.
And you singing, “Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear…”

To see what Grace wrote using this same prompt go to

The Lone Ranger--a movie review

What has this new Lone Ranger movie got? Flash and dash and a laugh or twenty-three. 
And Johnny Depp.
With a bit of computer magic there are more cliff-hanging, hair-raising, heart-stopping, spine-tingling sequences than I’ve ever seen. And so tongue-in-cheek that you’re bound to leave the theater laughing.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s more than enough graphic violence to earn it its PG-13 rating. In fact, it’s my opinion that the visual and auditory intensity of the movie should be quite enough to make it PG-13. That said, I had plenty of warning so I could close my eyes when I didn’t want to see what was coming. (I do that regularly in the movies, to the point that my daughter has punched me in the ribs thinking I’d fallen asleep. Well, to be fair, I’ve done that, too, but not in The Lone Ranger.)
I may be old, but not old enough to remember the radio Lone Ranger. I do remember the TV Lone Ranger. I loved it as a kid. This is not my father’s Lone Ranger, nor my generation’s Lone Ranger, but if you remember those Lone Rangers, you’ll get more of the jokes.
Johnny Depp has brought us The Pirates of the Caribbean Goes West. They play fast and loose with geography, history, physics, and probability theory. But the bad guys are ugly and mean. The whore has a heart of gold and a leg of another precious material. The school marm doesn’t teach school but she’s lovely, sweet, and vulnerable. And the hero wears a white hat.
What more could you want?
A side-kick, of course. Who, in this movie, is really the main character. Johnny Depp as the wise and wonderful wizard of odd. He’s Tonto wearing a dead crow on his head and leading the wrong brother by the nose into hero-hood.
And the score is grand. I swear I heard bits of Carmina Burana in there. Well, maybe not, but they finally did get around to The William Tell Overture and Silver reared up and The Lone Ranger shouted “Hiyo, Silver! Away!”

To which Tonto responded… Well, that would be giving it away. Go see the movie and don’t be afraid to laugh. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013


How is it that I, as a writer, build the heroes in my stories? Do I snatch them whole from the ether? Invent them new from my own imagination? Choose a favorite from writers past and change the name to protect me, the guilty? The answer is ‘yes’ and more.
And the ‘more’ is people watching.
I recently flew into Denver. Those of you familiar with our area know that the airport is out-of-town. My way home includes I-70 which during rush hour resembles a parking lot. To avoid driving in that mess I ride a city bus into downtown and transfer to the light rail. Public transport is a treasure trove for people watchers.
At the airport the bus driver stowed my suitcase along with that of a young woman, probably not more than early twenties and possibly younger than that. I was prepared with correct money for my fare. She was not. The bus driver does not give change. He waited patiently while we passengers got together the right change for the young woman. 
I carried my laptop bag and the tiny young woman carried a guitar case. She was well and truly tattooed and had found-art materials woven into her multi-colored hair. She asked the driver if there were hotels near downtown where she could stay the night. The bus driver suggested that she probably would be better off staying in a hotel away from the center of town because those downtown tend to be pricey. (I’m not the only one who makes up stories about people I don’t know.) I watched and listened as the driver and my fellow riders gave her advice about where to stay .
And my mind was off and racing with stories for this potential heroine who would survive great difficulties.
Then we parted ways, I to my train into the ‘burbs and she to another bus to become a rock star or a super spy.
But, like one of my favorite songs, ‘That’s not what I come here to talk about.’
The train was not very full when I got on. In my car there was a forty-ish woman dressed for office, a middle-aged couple with their bicycles, and me. At various stops more people got on and the bicyclists got off. A man also dressed for office work carried his briefcase. Some young people probably not old enough to drive—the boys in baggy shorts and the girls dressed for the sun. A college-age young man, dressed nicely, stood near the door too cool to hold the pole for balance.
Then a group of men fresh from a day of physical labor boarded and one of them sat across from me. He carried a back pack with a plastic tyrannosaurus rex sticking out its front pocket. He was missing some teeth (the man not the dinosaur,) his hair was unkempt, and he smelled..
The college-aged young man derisively commented about the man being ‘pungent.’ The man acknowledged his odoriferous state but credited his day at hard labor and took no offense. He talked about working in building demolition and how dangerous it was. He said his brother died doing the same work.
At the next stop a young father got on with his toddler, leaving her to stand in the aisle while he parked the stroller. The train started and the child fell. The office lady, the snaggle-toothed man, and I all tried to catch her. Our efforts served only to frighten the little girl who cried to break your heart.
She sat sobbing in her daddy’s lap until the man across from me asked if she liked dinosaurs. She quieted, tears pooling in her big blue eyes. He offered her his T-Rex. And she smiled. She accepted the toy and listened while he explained what kind of dinosaur it was and gave her a short natural history lesson.
When the clean, well-dressed, college-aged man left the train, the little girl paid no attention. She had eyes only for the ‘pungent’ man. When he left the train, she waved to him and watched out the window as he walked away.

And I had material for a hero.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Star Trek into Darkness

Star Trek into Darkness, the latest iteration of Gene Roddenberry’s creation, hit the screens last Wednesday. Finally a rollicking good movie in 3D, albeit a post-production conversion.  Ah, well. Maybe next time. And IMAX which I have not yet seen.
It opens with a chase scene—Kirk and another member of the Enterprise crew being chased by spear-chucking aboriginals intent on doing our boys harm, while Spock is busy trying to save these self-same natives from the destructive forces of nature on their undeveloped world.
Chris Pine does an excellent job of Kirk. Gung-ho flyboy, arrogant with a touch of innocence that comes across as vulnerability and caring.
Zachary Quinto is a commendable Spock, much better looking than the real Spock (Leonard Nimoy.) But I miss the voice.
Zoe Saldana as Uhura speaks volumes with those flashing eyes when her significant other, Mr. Spock, behaves irrationally. What kind of Vulcan behaves irrationally?
The rest of the cast is fine. They interact with each other in spot-on Trek fashion. Argumentively independent, yet always loyal and supportive in the end.
And Benedict Cumberbatch. I’ve saved the best for last. He has the looks, the voice, the bad guy role. Or is he the bad guy?
I liked the movie. I will see it again. So visually stunning, in fact, that I am seriously toying with paying the extra money to see the IMAX version.


Oh, yes, I know. Unoriginal, predictable, completely lacking in any hint of the next big thing. I don’t care. I enjoyed it. Star Trek is my generation’s fairy tale. Fairy tales retold, must always be recognizable, therefore, originality and surprising turns of event are not only unnecessary, done to excess they can be disturbing.
Oh, dear. But wasn’t that the point of the original Star Trek? That it be original and disturbing? In a time when sixteen of these United States still enforced anti-miscegenation laws and women weren’t allowed to wear pants in most schools and work places, didn’t the Enterprise crew include members without regard to race, gender, or specie? Of course the women didn’t wear pants. Perhaps that would have been too disturbing.
That original Star Trek dealt with two opposing super powers, The Federation and the Klingons. Not unlike Earth during the late sixties. In later TV series, the Federation and the Klingons found ways to work together. It seems America’s relationship with the former Soviet Union has not yet reached that level. Although this production is set prior to that kinder gentler time in Federation/Klingon relations, these Klingons seem more like pests on the periphery than real threats. Harrison/Kahn is the true ‘other’ super power.
I’ve read statements from cast members and PR flekkers who say what they think the overarching themes of Into the Dark are. Terrorism. The danger from within. Kirk’s crisis of faith in the hallowed concept of leadership.
Perhaps, had they spent time developing any one of these themes it would have been more than a fun afternoon at the movies. But the overarching themes were chase scenes, battles, noise, flashing lights, and ACTION. Certainly fills the time and probably less expensively than the additional writing necessary to give this excellent cast more story to work with.
I want another Star Trek. I want new communicators, not the old flip phones. I want tomorrow’s music in the night clubs and bedrooms. 3D from the get-go. If some fool mentions the loss of gravity on the ship, I don’t want to see folks falling all over the place. I want to come home thinking about the universe and humanity’s place in it in a new way.