Today I finished polishing my second Charity book, Charity MacCay and the Saintly Wives. It feels so good! Sure, I still have a few sentences to add in a couple places, but that’s it. I’m DONE!

What struck me about the final chapters was how I make Charity suffer through some pretty rotten luck.  I don’t feel bad about it because she’s had a comfortable life.  She was born into an upper class family, she’s never known hunger, she’s beautiful and buxom and so very smart, and underneath her impulsiveness and selfishness beats a generous heart.   So I figure readers won’t mind if I inflict her with some bad karma, especially since it adds to the plot twists and humor.

V fair cover

Anyway, it’s ironic that over breakfast I read an article about a woman who in most ways had the opposite early life of Charity, but now Karma seems to loves her to pieces.

She’s on the cover of Vanity Fair this month, her name is Natalia, and she’s a supermodel (those rare one-name creatures I haven’t paid heed to in years).  She looks like she’s eighteen but is 32.  And she has three beautiful children.  And a doting, gorgeous, wealthy husband.  And two homes in France.  And she was in a bikini on the swimsuit cover of Sports Illustrated, never mind that she’s had three kids so she should have stretch marks and blobs of fat on her hips.

You know why I forgive her even though she make me want to slit my wrists?

Turns out she had a grim childhood in her native Russia.  Badass dads who came and went.  A severely handicapped sister.  A mother who struggled to sell fruit on the streets while paying off the local Mob to let her work.  Soon Natalia was also on the street selling fruit.  What a tough childhood compared to my Charity character.

Flash forward to Natalia at 22:  She’s a supermodel, has bought her mother a house, and has founded a major charity foundation that has built over a hundred playgrounds for children in Russia.

You know, if any of us wrote a novel about someone with such a fantastical life, we’d be laughed out of the business.  But here’s what a friend said about Natalia, and you tell me if it doesn’t sound like a solid background for an exciting lead character:

Earl karma

She is a fighter.  In Russia… she had to survive.  The qualities she needed—the constant awareness, the readiness to fight, the sixth sense about danger—these things are in her blood…  She is like a combination of Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia.”

This kind of reminds me of the old TV series My Name is Earl.  I liked its humor and how Earl was trying to atone for his past bad actions so that he could straighten out his Karma.  Do good stuff and Karma will do right by you, Earl preached.  That rule never seems to work for Charity MacCay, however, because for her no good deed she does goes unpunished.  But then, that’s why my book is fiction and funny.

How about you? Any wild Karma stories you’ve written or lived through? Known people who seem to  experience extremes of good or bad luck?

Have you ever dug up a novel or short story you wrote a long time ago, a piece of writing you eventually gave up on, and thought—can I do something with this?  Maybe rewrite or edit it.

Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis star in Moonlighting.A lot of writers have lingering hopes for their old, abandoned stories.  But me?  Never.  Once I give up on a story, it’s dead and buried.   Oh, I’ll keep a copy somewhere, but that’s just for sentimental reasons.

So guess who dug up an old manuscript and now wants to do something with it.

And I mean, I had to dig.  It was in my storage unit in the basement and I had to go through several musty boxes until I found those 95 pages titled….

My Favorite Zombie.

Don’t laugh.

See, the title is supposed to be funny because it was a spec script for the late 1980′s TV show Moonlighting.  The one that made Bruce Willis a star.

That right, the late 80′s, which tells you how old I am.  And how old the script is because I had to type it out on a Selectric II typewriter.  Remember typewriters?  They’re what I worked with just before I finally got a personal computer.  Which had DOS programming because Windows hadn’t been invented yet.

Damn, I’m old.


This script reminds me that I almost got my foot in the proverbial Hollywood door.  You see, after writing it I contacted about two million agents in the general Los Angeles area, and at long last one of them said he’d take a look at it.  Well, he read it, loved it, told me flat out it was “excellent!” and tried to get in through the door at the production offices of Moonlighting.  But no one at the show would look at it, never mind if they publicly stated that they accepted spec scripts.  By the end of that show’s run, the producers had in fact never bought ANY spec scripts.

I really was kind of brokenhearted.  

Anyway, flash forward many years, and I find myself wanting to write a screenplay much like the screwball comedies of the 1930′s, which I adore.  (Yes I know, I’m supposed to be working on my ghost screenplay, and I am.  But I get easily distracted.)

So I read through my old script and thought… This isn’t half bad.  I’m even getting good ideas on how to change it into a full length screenplay.

Will anything come of my effort?  I doubt it.  I’ll probably just spend a few weekends seeing how fast I can whip it out before getting distracted yet again.  But it’ll also be fun.

And what about you, my darling fellow writers?  If you’ve got any rewriting-old-manuscript experiences, I’d love to hear about them.

Take care, and have a great week.

So the weekend is over and this is what I did:

1)   Got in a couple very good workouts.

2)  Went swimming.


3)  Ran several errands.

4)  Went grocery shopping.

5)  Fell asleep on the sofa in the middle of the afternoon.

6)  Got my hair done.

7)  Trimmed the vines away from my dining room windows.

8)  Was tortured by Nikolai in yet another painful sports massage/therapy session.

9)  Took my cat to the vet to get her nails trimmed because she won’t let me trim them even though it’s summer and I’m wearing shorts and she likes to jump up into my lap by using her nails ’cause she’s an old cat and needs all the climbing help she can get.

cat claws

10) Four loads of laundry.

11) An hour of ironing while watching TV.



But I’ll be taking a couple days off this week and hope to finishing editing my second Charity book, Charity MacCay and the Saintly Wives.  No, not hope; I PLAN to finish editing it.

BTW, I also finished reading James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird, which as you may know won the National Book Award.  It deserved the award and more.  The story is set in the same period as my Charity books, so besides enjoying the read it counts as research for me.  Here are a few sentences in which McBride is describing the great Harriet Tubman.  They took my breath away.

She moved toward the front of the room like the wind, quick, silent, smooth, taut as rope, and them fellers parted and slid their benches out the way to let her pass.  There was something fearful ’bout that woman, silent, terrible, and strong…

Them eyes was staring down at me.  I can’t say they were kind eyes.  Rather they was tight as balled fists.  Full.  Firm.  Stirred.  The wind seemed to live in that woman’s face.  Looking at her was like staring at a hurricane.

I hope you had a more productive literary weekend than I did.  Got any literary ambitions for the weeks to come?





This last week I learned how absolutely VITAL it can be to FOLLOW UP ON SUBMISSIONS!

agents listr

As you know, gentle reader, in April I was jumping for joy when an agent emailed that she wanted to take a look at my manuscript, Charity MacCay and the Almighty Dollar.  I anxiously gave it one final look through, fixed the pagination, did my umpteenth spell check, and only a few hours after receiving the agent’s request, I sent off a pdf of my manuscript to her.  Of course I also checked the email address  and subject line a dozen times and made sure everything was just plain perfect.

And then I waited. And waited.

I waited for over 100 days.

Yes I know, the world of traditional publishing can move at a glacial pace.  But seriously, 100 days after this wonderful agent sounded enthusiastic about my novel?  Finally I sent a brief, polite follow-up query, as in, Have you had a chance to look at my manuscript yet?

Only minutes later her assistant emailed me back with profuse apologies.  She and the agent had been unhappy when they requested my manuscript and it never came.  But my follow-up query had prompted the assistant to check her deleted messages and spam folder and… THERE WAS MY EMAIL WITH THE ATTACHED MANUSCRIPT IN THE *#!&! WRONG FOLDER!

She was SO sweet and SO apologetic and yes, they would now look at Charity MacCay tout suite.  And of course I emailed back that I too have experienced similar strange acts of hostility by emails services and servers (this is very true, especially when using Outlook at my job), and that yes, I’d still love for the agent to have a look at my manuscript.


This assistant also thanked me for FOLLOWING UP!  And I’m so glad I FOLLOWED UP!  Because if I hadn’t, they would still be wrongly assuming I’d snubbed them and I would be drowning my rejection sorrows in a bottle of very strong wine.

I only wish I had emailed this assistant the day after sending my manuscript just to confirm way back then that she had received it.  Live and learn.

So let this be a lesson to you, my fellow writers.  Even when you do everything correctly, or an agent or editor does everything just right, the malicious, petty, unpredictable minor Greek god of the internet can still technologically mess with you.  It can mess with your head, it can mess with your emails, and worst of all it can mess with your manuscripts.

Have you ever had this kind of experience too?  If so, you have my sympathies.


on July 21, 2014 in Misc | 8 Comments »

People’s attention spans have shrunk.

Which is a big reason why I’m keeping today’s post short.

Seriously. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the average attention span of the U.S. citizen has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013.

The attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds.

lucy movie

Meanwhile, over at the Pentagon, one of its agencies that invests in cutting-edge technology is working on brain enhancement implants for soldiers.  I am not making this up.

It seems the generals want to create super soldiers with hyper-concentration, a perfect memory for maps, and no need to sleep for days on end.  Which to me sounds like a cross between Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory and a meth addict.

Isn’t it fascinating how fiction writers predicted both these extremes?  From the dumbed-down people in Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451, to the super smart super folks in more books and movies than I can count.

bradley limitlessThe newest movie on the topic is Lucy. I want to see it because I’m fascinated by ideas of enhanced brain power.  Guys I know will see it because Scarlet Johansson plays Lucy.  But to be fair, I pretty much saw Limitless, which had a similar brainy, because Bradley Cooper was the lead.

BTW, up until a few years ago I used to meditate a lot.   And as flaky as it may sound, a couple of times I used intense meditation, concentration, and deep relaxation to heal muscle injuries, one of them being a painfully stiff neck.  I swear that after twenty minutes my neck was about 80% healed.

How about you—any fantasies or real tales of brain power you may have? Did it inspire you to write a brainy story?

lee child

Do you know why so many women love Lee Child’s tough-as-nails Jack Reacher novels?

Because Reacher metes out his personal brand of justice.  If necessary, it’s bloody vigilante justice.

Are you surprised? I’m not.  But Child was when over a hundred women came to one of his book signings and he talked with them.  Turned out they were fans because they think Reacher is hot and they have fantasy affairs with the character.  But the main reason was, to quote Child:

[Women] “find it difficult to express anger.  An angry man is seen as assertive, and an angry woman is seen as shrill.  So they are perpetually conflicted about anger, and they love to read about it on the page, vicariously—they want to see somebody kick somebody else’s butt, because they actually can’t do it themselves.”

For me the sad part of that statement is THEY CAN’T ACTUALLY DO IT THEMSELVES.

Why not?

Now, I’m not talking revenge when a boyfriend or girlfriend dumps each other, or when a husband or wife cheats.  What happens in Child’s novels are serious crimes that destroy people and lives.  Jack Reacher comes into the situation and fixes things, and always there’s some violence.  Yet many women in real life can’t imagine themselves doing the same in a similar extreme situation?

Jack reacher

Maybe I’m an oddball, because I think I could seriously, physically kick butt if I had to.  Then again, I’ve only had to do so in minor incidents, like that time in Cairo when I grabbed a teenager and threatened to kill him because he brushed his thumb against my crotch.

Also unlike most of Lee’s female fans, I have no difficulty expressing anger.  In fact, my problem is keeping my Irish temper under control if I get pushed to my limit.  But I’m glad to report that as I’ve gotten older I’ve mellowed.

What I do find interesting is how these traits have affected my writing.  In The Compass Master, Layla can and does physically defend herself and wounds her attacker.  When I was writing that scene I really felt myself in her mind and body as she fought, and I enjoyed writing it.  In my Charity MacCay manuscripts, Charity is younger, much more impulsive, and wildly optimistic about her chances of righting a wrong.  But she does outrageously right a few wrongs done to her, which I noticed strongly appeals to my female readers.  My mother called me the minute she finished the second manuscript and exclaimed, “I’m so glad she shot that man!”

Gee, thanks, Mom.  So glad you liked that part.

Anyway, I like to think that if pushed to the wall by bad people I would fight like a hellcat.  How about you?  Have you ever wondered what you’re capable of in real life?  Would you live vicariously through your favorite character, or is that character in some ways a true expression of you and what you would do?

James Bond knows his way around computers, high-tech killing devices, and just about any state-of-the-art gadget thrown in his path.

Lara Croft may have computer and tech genius Bryce working for her.  But she too could program, hack, and out-tech her way around a villain.

craig bond

The same seems to go for any action hero.

My own Layla in The Compass Master probably knows her way around computers and programming, even though her adventures are pretty low tech.

So I’m kinda embarrassed to admit that today I paid a nice young guy to set up and program my new TV along with my DVD player.

See, until today I had a very old (22 years) TV, a heavy but reliable clunker.  Then I finally decided I could afford a cheaper version of a flat-screen TV (they’ve only been around for what, a decade?), one that, unlike my old TV, would be compatible with the on-sale DVD player I bought a few months ago.  So I ordered one and it arrived days ago.

I didn’t open the box until today.

bryce lara croft

And I didn’t pull the flat screen out and screw its stand together and assemble the few parts.  I did not even think of hooking it up to my cable box and DVD player, or figuring out where to insert the CD so that I could program the TV and see how the three remotes functioned.

Could I have done all this?  Sure.   But I…  just…  couldn’t…  bring myself to do it because…

… I am so burned out on technology.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve worked in an office most of my life.  I started on computers when they were DOS, learned Windows in its earliest incarnation, and can’t even count how many software programs and operating systems and their endless upgrades I’ve had to learn.  I have survived what seems like a hundred phone systems and overseen their installations at least a couple times.  I have programmed gadgets that were obsolete within a year.  I have spent a large portion of my life working with technology that has gone the way of the carrier pigeon.

See, much as computers and entertainment systems can be wonderful for me to use, there’s only so much of my life I want to spend on them.  For some people, programming the latest and greatest stuff is fun.  But for me it isn’t a game anymore.  I’d really rather just pay someone to do it for me.

How about you—is technology still fun for you?  Any burn-out cases out there?


              Helena Soister
                First Draft


A SMALL DESK LAMP SPARKS ON. We see a feminine hand move 
from the lamp to a keyboard.  

PULL BACK to see a glowing computer screen. It is blank,
then words appear on it.

	 It was a dark and stormy night...

PULL BACK to see that we are looking over the shoulder
of a woman typing. We can't see her face, yet we are
aware that she is beautiful, her figure stunning,
her air mysterious, alluring.

ANOTHER ANGLE. We are in a book-lined study with an
expensive oak desk and luxurious objets d'art.
From a distant room we can hear music playing--a
French chanteuse from a bygone era.

ANOTHER ANGLE. We see near the woman a lady's
WATCH on the desk inkpad, a FOUNTAIN PEN, and 

Suddenly we hear an indistinguishable MURMUR
from just behind her.

The Woman turns her head, listens.

	Who's there?

The music ends. Silence. She turns back to her
desk. The WATCH and FOUNTAIN PEN have vanished.

She GASPS. Looks around. The WATCH dangles from
a window latch. The FOUNTAIN PEN sits on a 

She picks up the bottle of holy water as if
it were a weapon. Slowly rises.  

		     WOMAN (Cont.)
	Come out, come out, wherever you are...

Seriously, guys, I wish this were an accurate description of me writing my screenplay.
But the good news is, because I whipped this out for my blog post, I got kind of
inspired and FINALLY started my real ghost story screenplay. 

What about you?  Have you ever just been goofing around with something
and then... suddenly... out of nowhere and with NO DRAMA WHATSOEVER...
You start a new story.

If only the rest of my life were this easy.

Have a great week.


My friend Linda is figuring out what she wants be in her next life.

See, she’s Buddhist and reincarnation is part of her beliefs.   Which is intriguing when you consider that her father had been a Christian chaplain in Patton’s army in WWII.

Anyway, she told me that in Buddhism a person has some control over what his or her next life might be like, at least if said person is spiritually aware.  Since she’s a kind and compassionate lady, I bet she qualifies.

Her planning got me thinking:  what if I had a next life too? What would I really want to be?  Happy, of course, and a decent person who’s surrounded by a bunch of wonderful people.  Also I meet the love of my life early on, which hasn’t happened in this life.  But instead of being a writer or novelist, even a bestselling one, I want to be a legendary archeologist-slash-historian-slash adventurer.  Which is almost what Layla Daltry is, except that she’s more of a shady antiquities dealer-slash-scholar on the edge of the law.

That’s my plan for my next life, at least if I’m reborn within the next hundred years.  And assuming we idiot humans haven’t destroyed our planet with climate change, war and pollution.  But what if I’m reborn about two centuries in the future?

Then I am so going to Starfleet Academy.


I am also definitely signing up to serve on the Starship Enterprise, which will certainly exist because we’ve already got an Enterprise in NASA’s fleet because a lot of NASA scientists grew up hooked on Star Trek.  In a recent post about Material X and space travel, Michael Offut (SLC Kismet) takes it for granted that there’s a Starfleet Academy in our future.  This gives me hope because Mike is so smart and understands physics, which I don’t.  But in my next life I will.

So tell me please, if you could plan a life for yourself in the future, what would you do and be?  Sure, it’s just speculation, but that’s how we can get ideas for our stories.



Several months ago I started developing a weird mental habit.

I started to think, What if I only have a year or two to live?  What if I only have a couple more birthdays, tops, and then… Whamo!  I’m a goner.

Lately, I’ve even started telling myself that I only have a couple more years to go.  You know how that make me feel?

Liberated.  Strangely but definitely liberated.  Free.  Even happier.

don't worry

I mean, it’s not like I’m about to raid my 401k.  I haven’t given up saving money.

But in the meantime, I haven’t been very concerned about not getting financially ahead or that my car is making an unhealthy squeaking noise.  So what if I have to get a new car?  It’ll be the last one I’ll ever have to shop for.  Such relief!

I’ve already begun to spend less on clothes because what I have will more than last me to the end.  I’m even getting along better with a couple family members and I’ve become more social and outgoing.  And I’ve stopped putting off plans for summer fun because this could be my this is my last or second-to-last summer.

happy dog

Realistically, I might have a couple decades ahead of me.  But see, by nature I can be a serious worry-wart.  We’re talking worrying, fretting, habitual day-after-day planning.  I’ve also had to be on my own most of my adult life which means I am SOOOO TIRED of looking after myself.  Really worn-out tired.

Yet when I gradually decided to Live Like I’m Gonna Die, my life really did start to feel easier.  Lighter.

And how is this change affecting me as a writer?

Well, I’m not planning a book or script on the subject because there are already a ton of stories with characters who learn they will soon die (tragedies), or wrongly think they’ll die but in fact will live (comedies).  What this attitude is doing for me as a writer, however, is to make me more focused.  I’m determined to get my two Charity MacCay books published, traditionally or indie.  I’ll write that very short non-fiction work.  And for fun I’ll start that screenplay.  But that’s it.  I’m finding myself simultaneously disconnecting from writing because I want to have a real life with what time is left me.

So now I do have to ask—have you ever thought about what you would do if you were going to die soon?  Not if you had just a few days or months, but a few years at most?

Kinda funny, isn’t it, how thoughts of THE END can make us think of a new beginning.